Last December, China’s Ministry of Culture released a new set of rules governing online games in the country, including a regulation that requires developers of video games that feature random loot boxes to reveal the odds of players receiving items. That rule, which officially took effect on March 1st, has led to multiple big-name companies revealing the drop rates for rare items in their loot boxes, many of them for the first time.
Daniel Ahmad, an analyst for Niko Partners, covered the new regulations when they were first released. As Ahmad summarizes, “Online game operators will need to disclose the name, property, content, quantity, and draw/forge probability of all virtual items and services that can be drawn/forge on the official game website or a dedicated draw probability webpage of the game.”
Some of the biggest games in the world rely on loot boxes as huge sources of income
Some of the biggest games in the world, including Dota 2, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike all rely on loot boxes as huge sources of income, given that many of the games are free-to-play titles. Instead of buying items or characters outright, players can play the game for free, but purchase mystery boxes that may or may not contain in-game items they want. It’s a bit like a slot machine, but where you put in real dollars to try to win virtual gear instead of money.
But given that players don’t know the actual odds behind the mystery prizes, buying them is essentially sinking money in a lottery, where players never know if the next box will contain common duplicates or that one rare skin they’ve been hunting for. Without the odds, there’s no way to really know how likely you are to get the item you want, something that even real cash lotteries are required to disclose. Players have tried in the past to work out loot box rates by collecting data from the gaming community, but the methodology only provided a rough guess for the actual rates.
In response to the new regulation, several games have already released odds on treasure chests and loot boxes. Perfect World, Valve’s Chinese partner for Dota 2, announced its loot rates earlier this week, along with Riot, which has similarly released probabilities for loot and crafting in League of Legends. Other developers, including Blizzard, the publisher of the massively popular competitive shooter Overwatch, have yet to release any information on loot drops yet.
That said, the Chinese regulation only requires developers to release rates for the Chinese version of a given game. So it’s entirely possible a developer could boost the drop rate in China, and release the numbers under the new rules, while offering far lower odds in the rest of the world.
Still, for players who feel like the odds are stacked against them when they open up their next loot box or card pack, the new regulations will at least give them some idea of just how bad their luck really is.
If anything, the data should be reason for other nations to consider similar laws to protect and inform players in games that increasingly rely on incentives similar to gambling.