Last week, Elder Scrolls Online launched their latest cash shop additions. The store now sells some pretty sweet storm atronach mounts, along with equally cool new skins. Unfortunately, gambling is the only way acquire these new collectibles. Alongside these items, Zenimax Online Studios has “welcomed” gambling crates to ESO.
As Deltia’s Gaming shows, the gambling crates aren’t a great value. Each crate costs $3.33 – $4 (depending on how many are purchased). Deltia purchased 45 crates, worth about $150. How many of these rare mounts did he receive for supporting gambling? Zero. Zilch. Nada. But that’s OK (or should be) because ZOS included a way to break down unwanted or duplicate items into gems. Gems supposedly give players freedom to avoid a nasty RNG streak like Deltia’s. Yet even after gemifying everything, Deltia still didn’t have enough for a rare mount. For some perspective, non-gambling mounts cost up to $25. It’s pretty absurd that $150 doesn’t guarantee a top prize.
Now, theoretically this was just an extremely unlucky run. According to this player run sheet, the average drop rate for a rare mount is 18%. That puts the price per mount at $18-$21, which is totally reasonable. But we’re banking on the accuracy of a player run sheet that is probably biased to huge winners and losers and susceptible to trolling statisticians. There’s just no way to confirm the legitimacy of any of these numbers. And that’s the biggest issue with loot crates, gambling boxes, or whatever your online game of choice calls them.
Publishers are inherently being disingenuous by not revealing drop rates. Players are simply left knowing there’s a chance of getting the best loot. And humans love the chance to win. Humans also incorrectly assess their chances of winning. Just because a coin has flipped to heads ten times in a row doesn’t make the chance of tails any better than 1 in 2. It’s what leads to customers shelling out money for just one more roll of the dice. It gets even worse lacking honest statistics. Without hard numbers to back up the actual likelihood of winning, gamblers will overconfidently assess their prospects of winning. Peter Griffin of Family Guys perfectly illustrates all of these human qualities below.
Luckily, China is coming to our rescue. They just passed a regulation that will require online game publishers to disclose the probability of loot crates drop. Of course China’s laws don’t impact how publishers operate in other countries. However, unless loot crate drop rates drastically differ by region, we’ll still learn what rates to expect. Sadly, this won’t impact Elder Scrolls Online because there’s no Chinese version of the game. It will impact games like Overwatch and Guild Wars 2, and it will be interesting to compare official drop rates to crowd sourced estimates. Either way, this is a surprisingly pro consumer move from a country that plans to implement a social credit score.
Now I don’t absolutely dislike MMO gambling. In fact, I personally like physical gambling in the forms of blackjack, poker, and penny slots. And I’m all for developers monetizing the game in any way that doesn’t dupe customers or fall into pay to win territory. Where MMOs vary against casino games is the opaque math and exclusivity and intangibility of the goods.
When I gamble in a casino, I know exactly what I’m getting into. I have no qualms about winning or losing because I know the chance of success, money exists in other places besides casinos, and gambling is an entertaining activity. Naturally, I have reservations about MMO gambling. It’s a black box compared to gambling in Vegas. I don’t know the likelihood of winning, and anything I do win has no redeemable value. China is fixing the former issue. The latter is why gaming companies have been able to avoid gambling laws for so long.
Most gambling laws in the United States and Europe pertain to cash and physical goods. Uneager to see that change, companies like Steam have found it wise to police themselves. Earlier this year, Steam sent cease-and-desist letters to those conducting gambling operations of CS:GO items. While that’s good and well, eventually something nasty will happen that will attract the right politician’s eye. Laws will change to include digital goods, and we’ll see the online gaming and MMO gambling world continue to evolve. Loss rewards like coins in Overwatch and gems in ESO will be calculable. This will lead to transparent values of digital goods for the willing consumer. Instead of guessing the price of that special ESO mount, we would know it would cost anywhere from $4 to $200. You can bet that publishers would be playing a whole new ball game then.
As they say, knowledge is power. Unfortunately, when it comes to gambling the publishers have all of that power. China is starting to change that. Hopefully other countries will follow suit.