Loot Math

The grim reality as boring bars

Now that EA and Star Wars Battlefront II with its microtransactions and loot boxes has gotten pretty much everyone riled up, I decided to do a bit of investigative journalism. As everyone is probably aware already, loot boxes could be considered a game mechanic but that is only a disguise to skin children and imbeciles of whatever money they might have left after buying the game itself. This questionable practice involves random rewards in random boxes with odds so low that impatient players might very well be tempted to get them with money rather than by playing.

Massive corporation greed isn’t exclusive to EA, though. Bandai Namco, too, is well-versed in this unholy dark art of leeching. As a demonstration, I’ll use The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, which many will probably remember from last summer’s blog entries. After considerable grinding, I left the game missing just one stage costume. Sadly, it’s one that is hidden away in a random loot box. Luckily, however, it serves as a perfect way of highlighting what the recent fuss about loot boxes is all about.

The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars is based on live performances that reward not just money and experience, but also random presents. A single live takes about four minutes to complete, and after I had done a statistically nice amount of them, 200 to be exact, I got a much better understanding of what odds are involved in trying to get that one last costume into the wardrobe.

The graph in this article shows the madness of the scheme. Each bar represents ten lives and the presents I got out of them. 67% of the lives go unrewarded altogether, 18% result in a bronze present, 14% a silver present, and mere 1% a gold present. No points for guessing which kind of those hold the costume I’m missing. It get considerably more tragicomic when you consider there are ten different gold presents. So, should I get lucky enough to even bump into one, I still have only a 10% chance of actually scoring what I want. Or, to turn it around, every four minutes I have a 99.9% chance of not getting the costume. No wonder that I haven’t seen it despite 200 hours and 1800 lives played.

Now, if I was peeved AND enjoyed both loose money and a full frontal lobotomy, I’d probably just go to the marketplace to buy my way to happiness. One present costs 100 yen but a hundred of them go for as “low” as 8000 yen. At today’s exchange rates, that’s a price range from a bit under one euro to 60 euros. It took me about 13 hours to play those 200 lives and amass 66 presents in the process. Converted into cash, that means about 40 euros. If I was a corporate-loved whale who went with the most expensive hundred present deal, the odds involved would mean it contains maybe 3-4 gold presents. Or, in other words, sixty euros for four chances of guessing a number between one and ten. Yay!

Naturally, I’m such a stingy gamer that I rarely buy even an entire game digitally, let alone downloadable content or, heaven forbid, loot boxes. Still, these numbers probably explain why the business model works. It takes a special kind of stupidity both to pay and choosing not to pay. I suppose I’ll eventually play my way to that last costume simply out of sheer tenacity but hopefully this at least works as a cautionary example of the kind of cancer loot boxes represent.