๐Ÿ˜กSurprise Mechanics

A method of obscuring value

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Predatory practice when used in monetization

While not always represented as a loot box, loot box is a more common term. Surprise mechanics can take any form really, a loot box, pack of cards, bag of tokens, or even a prize lama as seen in Fortnight ... there have been many forms.

What makes it a surprise mechanic is that the contents are obscured so the user isn't aware of what they are purchasing. As a monetization tool loot boxes are predatory and very closely related to gatcha mechanics.

The key issue with a loot box as noted is obscurity and chance. The user doesn't know what is in the box until it is opened. Even if you display the odds this is still an obscured game of chance with a buy in. That is by definition no different mechanically, in result or in the effect on the user than any other form of chance based gambling game.

So what separates gatcha mechanics from a loot box?

Gatcha mechanics deal more with the mechanics around the prize pool, that is the collection of items, exchanging lower level items for higher level items, etc. In short gatcha mechanics are designed to put the user on a treadmill of increased spending with lower rewards. For example a common method of mixing the two.

A loot box that contains parts of an item, you have to collect all the unique parts to get the item, the parts you get come form a randomized loot box. Often there are different boxes with different chances to drop the item. In this model you can clearly see gatcha mechanics and loot boxes are simply being used to layer multiple gatcha systems on top of each other.


There are a number of variants that attempt to side step the implicitly predatory nature of a loot box. The problem is these variants tend to double down on exploitative practices making the system more predatory not less.

Show before buy

This is where you show the user a box and its contents and they can either choose to buy or pass. If they buy they get the items if they pass the do not and they get shown another loot box having lost the ability to buy the previous box. Typically these systems also limit the number of "pass" options and or modify chance to drop by the number of "pass" options taken.

This is similar to a few bate and switch scams. The system works on two parts

  1. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) The user may not really want the current option but maybe its better than the next and they want some of it or something. Fear of missing out drives them to purchase more often than they would if they could simply buy previously passed up boxes.

  2. Slot Machine Machine You don't know what will be in the next box. The allure of a box with rare loot or a "jack pot" will drive people to "play" your slot machine longer than they would with full transparency.

Display the odds

This doesn't change the fact that its gambling. The player is still "wagering" that next box will have something good. This still plays on the same manipulations and psychology as any other chance based gambling game.


In some regions one cannot sale a loot box at all and the number of regions coming on board with that are increasing. One method to side step this is to sale keys or some other non-loot box item or currency that can be exchanged for loot boxes. This is a Pachinko exchange and is still very much so gambling.

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