Rocket League®

Rocket League's position on loot boxes just got a whole lot more complex. Up until now, loot crates containing cosmetic items dropped occasionally after matches, and to open them you had to buy a key with real money (or trade for one). But now that's changing, at least during special events.

The game's Halloween-themed event, Haunted Hallows, kicks off tomorrow (Monday at 5pm PDT), adding new spooky items and pumpkin-inspired loot crates. But you won't have to pay to open those crates—you can instead open them with Decryptors, a new item that you can get for free.

Decryptors will open both Halloween loot boxes and regular ones, and to obtain them you need to spend Candy Corn, a new in-game currency specific to the event. You earn Candy Corn simply by playing and finishing matches, and you can also spend it on additional event loot crates and other Halloween items. Candy Corn will expire a week after the event (which finishes on November 6), but any items you purchased with it will remain available.

So, the upshot is that for the first time, you'll be able to open loot crates simply by playing in matches. Probably quite a lot of matches (I'm guessing you're not going to get floods of Candy Corn every time a game ends), but still, it's a start. Future events will have a similar system, developer Psyonix said in the announcement post, with a different in-game currency for each one. 

The situation with trading is even more complex: you will not be able to trade any items you get from loot crates opened with a Decryptor, but you will be able to purchase the event crates with real money in the same way as you bought keys in the past. Bought crates are automatically unlocked and you can trade any of the goodies inside.

What do you think of the system?

Rocket League® - Dirkened

Rocket League’s first-ever Haunted Hallows special Event is just around the corner, which means that it’s time for a closer, not-at-all spooky look at Rocket League’s upcoming Event system!

Earning and Spending Currency

Our Event system introduces a new limited-time currency, with the first being Candy Corn! All you need to do to earn it is to play (and complete) Online Matches. In order to use Candy Corn, simply click the 'Special Event' button on the main menu screen. From there, you can redeem whatever you've earned to claim Halloween Items, Decryptors, and Locked "Haunted Hallows" Crates.

Candy Corn can be spent throughout the Event, and will expire one week after Haunted Hallows is over, but don't worry -- Items purchased with Candy Corn DO NOT expire at the end of the event, and will remain in your inventory forever!

*Note: The standalone items you can buy with Candy Corn are NOT the same as the items available in the ‘Haunted Hallows’ Crate!


Decryptors are the newest way to unlock Crates in Rocket League and they can be used for any Crate in the game (including Event Crates). The only way to get Decryptors is to buy them with Candy Corn. But remember: any Crate Item unlocked through the use of Decryptors will be untradeable. If you want to trade an unlocked item, make sure you use a normal Key.

Event Crates

Our new ‘Haunted Hallows’ Event Crates are only available during the Haunted Hallows event, and there are three ways to get them. As always, you can get a new Crate as a drop after some Online Matches, and you can also buy the Crate using Candy Corn. In both cases, you can open the Crate with a Key or a Decryptor. We’re also letting you buy Event Crates directly, similar to how you buy Keys, and any purchased ‘Haunted Hallows’ Crate will not require a Key or Decryptor to unlock.

Finally, the Haunted Hallows Event Crates will not be updated for next Halloween. If you decide to wait a year to open one of these Crates, it will still have the same potential item inside as it does during this event.

The Haunted Hallows event gets rolling this Monday, October 16 at 5pm PDT, so get ready to earn some Candy Corn.

Haunted Hallows Event Start Time
  • Monday, October 16 at 5pm PDT (8pm EDT/2am CEDT on October 17)
Haunted Hallows Event End Time
  • Monday, November 6 at 10am PST (1pm EST/7pm CET)

Rocket League® - Dirkened

  • Brightness on DFH Stadium (Day) and Champions Field (Day) has been reduced
  • Fixed an issue with the grass in Champions Field (Day) on low detail
  • The broken texture on Starbase Arc has been fixed
  • Mac/Linux: Farmstead map visuals have been updated
  • Lighting on Farmstead has been adjusted
  • Urban Central boost locations are now consistent with other Standard Arenas
  • Boost audio will no longer cut out when rapidly tapping the Boost button
  • Season Reward Level progress should now display correctly at the end of Competitive matches
  • Added additional checks to prevent undesired demolish scenarios reported since the Autumn Update
  • Fixed several issues with in-game grass
  • The appearance of grass on lower detail modes on PC has been updated as part of ongoing optimizations
  • Fixed the item thumbnail for Halo toppers with a Black ‘Painted’ attribute
  • Fixed a game crash issue related to the Season 4 Reward Trails
  • The ‘Labyrinth’ Decal for Takumi has been fixed
  • The Season 2 Reward Prospect Boost has been fixed
  • Second player in splitscreen mode is not retaining color choices made in the garage
  • Joining Free Play during join countdown blocks player from joining match
  • Some players on Xbox One may still experience performance issues
    • Restarting Rocket League can help solve this issue temporarily while we continue to investigate
Rocket League®

Rocket League is serving up its second dose of Fast & Furious DLC on Wednesday, when two classic cars from the films will join the game's roster.

You can get behind the wheel of both the '99 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34, from the 2003 film 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the '70 Dodge Charger R/T, which appeared in the series' first flick, 2001's The Fast and the Furious. 

Each one will set you back $1.99. They'll boast unique booming engine sounds and flashy wheels as well as their own array of decals (six apiece).

Remember, they're purely cosmetic items, so players who buy them won't gain any advantage.

It's the second tie-up between developer Psyonix and film company Universal—you might remember that in April series hero Dom Toretto's "Ice Charger" drove onto the turf to mark the release of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth Fast & Furious film.

You can see the new cars in action in the video at the top of this post, and here's shots of both vehicles, first the Dodge, then the Nissan:

Rocket League® - Dirkened

That’s right, Fast & Furious Rocket League DLC is getting a sequel!

In collaboration with Universal, Dodge, and Nissan, two new Premium Battle-Cars from the epic Fast & Furious film franchise are racing into Rocket League! The ‘'70 Dodge Charger R/T’ and ‘’99 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34’ from the garages of Dom Toretto and Brian O’Connor are ready for the pitch. Check out the additional images below. The Dodge Charger and Nissan Skyline Battle-Cars will be $1.99 USD each (or regional equivalent) and each car comes with its own Engine Audio, Wheels and set of Decals! The Charger comes with the ‘Alameda Twin,’ ‘Good Graces,’ ‘Sinclair,’ ‘Wheelman,’ ‘Rally,’ and ‘Flames’ Decals, and the Skyline packs the ‘Clean Cut,’ ‘The Clutch,’ ‘Home Stretch,’ ‘2Bold,’ ‘2Cool,’ and ‘2Tuff’ wraps.

The new Fast & Furious DLC will be available on October 11 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, and will also be available on Nintendo Switch later this holiday season. Check out more info about the Fast & Furious DLC on our landing page!

Rocket League® - Dirkened

It’s party time!

Following the execution of our internal testing program, we're happy to announce that our first round of public testing for Rocket League's new PsyNet Party System will begin this week and continue throughout the month of October.

What’s the new Party System all about? Once the test is running, PsyNet (our name for Rocket League’s backend) will automatically sync with your Steam Friends List information and allow you to create a party inside of the game client, rather than using Steam's tech as you normally would.

If you’re playing on Steam, you will NOT have to update your game when the test goes live, as all of the changes will happen through PsyNet (and do not require additional downloads). Our initial party tests will be short -- roughly 24 hours or less -- followed by longer tests throughout the Autumn season. The screenshot below is what you will see in Rocket League when inviting friends through PsyNet instead of Steam.

When do these PsyNet Party tests begin? PC players should keep an eye on the in-game blog and ticker this week and month (as well as our Twitter, Subreddit, and Facebook) for specific details.

If anything goes wrong during the test, don’t worry -- your game will automatically default back to the normal Steam Friends List in those cases. You will not have to restart your game client and all changes or rollbacks will be made automatically through PsyNet. Please bear with us as we continue to work out the kinks.

For our community members playing on Xbox One or PlayStation 4: None of these tests or changes will affect your game in any way, nor will it affect your ability to cross-network play in the same servers as Steam players.

Be sure to keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook pages for more information about the tests and everything else going on in the Rocket League universe.

Rocket League® - (Alice O'Connor)

Autumn is here and Rocket League [official site] certainly has noticed, last night launching its big Autumn Update with new arenas for carball as well as some decent new features. We get to ball around a beautiful new farmyward sportszone, new regulation-shape versions of the Wasteland and Starbase ARC arenas, and day and snowy variants of several other maps. That’s the magic of doing sports in cars under a dome: seasons cannot ruin the sports. Other big bits include local multiplayer support for LAN parties, an AI director for spectator mode, and loads of new cosmetic bits to customise your brum-brum. (more…)

Rocket League® - Dirkened

The Headlines
  • ‘Farmstead’ is now available as a Seasonal Arena in all Playlists
  • ‘Wasteland’ and ‘Starbase ARC’ have been redesigned as Standard Arenas
  • More than 90 FREE new items added as drops and Trade-Ins

  • ‘Accelerator Crate’ has been added
  • Player Banners have been added as a new Customization Item
  • The Main Menu has a redesigned blog UI
  • New features include Transparent Goalposts, Director Camera, and Local Matches (Steam Only)
  • Competitive Season 5 ends, and Competitive Season 6 begins
    • Player Banners are being distributed as Season 5 Rewards
Complete list below...
New Content
  • ‘Farmstead’ is now available as a Seasonal Arena in all Playlists
  • ‘Wasteland’ and ‘Starbase ARC’ have been redesigned as Standard Arenas.
    • Previous versions are now called ‘Badlands’ and ‘ARCtagon,’ can be found in Rumble, Private Matches, and Offline
  • ‘DFH Stadium’ (Day)
  • ‘Champions Field’ (Day)
  • ‘Mannfield’ (Snowy)
    • Snowy Arena variants will return to Casual and Competitive Playlists during the holiday season
Player Banners
  • Player Banners are new Customization Items displayed in the main menu and during Goal Replays.
  • Some Player Banners have customizable background colors, while others may have an animated background.
  • Some Player Banners may drop with a ‘Painted’ attribute
  • Player Banners will be available as Common items after any match, while others will be Rare or Very Rare drops after Online Matches, or via the Trade-In system:
  • More than 90 FREE new items added to the drop rate (including the Player Banners listed above)
  • ‘Accelerator Crate’ has been added
Community Flags
  • ‘Jon Sandman’
  • ‘Woofless’
Changes and Updates
  • Players can now change to another Custom Training pack while playing a Custom Training pack
    • While in a Custom Training pack, pause the game, choose ‘Change Training’ from the in-game menu
  • ‘Stick Sensitivity’ has been added to the Controls menu
    • At the default value of 1.0, your controller will behave the same as before
    • Your analog stick input is multiplied by these values. Increasing them makes your controller more sensitive at the cost of some fine-tuned control
    • At the maximum value of 10.0, your controller behaves like Keyboard steering, turning at maximum speed from any stick tilt
  • ‘Camera Transition Speed’ option has been added to the Camera menu
    • Increasing this value makes your camera blend between Ball Cam and Player Cam more quickly
  • ‘Always Show Nameplates’ option has been added to the Gameplay menu
    • When enabled, this option will prevent other players’ nameplates from being hidden even at long distances
  • All cars are now using one of the standardized presets for handling and hitbox introduced in the Anniversary Update
Main Menu
  • The Main Menu has a redesigned blog UI
    • The blog is now collapsable
    • The blog will auto expand if new news has been added since your last play session
    • More information about live esports events is now included
  • The new ‘Play’ submenu consolidates all Offline and Online play modes into one section.
    • Exhibition and Season modes can now be found under ‘Play Local’
  • ‘Stats,’ ‘Leaderboards,’ and ‘League Rankings’ are now found under the ‘Career’ submenu

Transparent Goalposts
  • A new ‘Transparent Goalposts’ option has been added that causes goalposts and some walls to become see-through when necessary to see the ball
  • All Arenas but Rocket Labs use this new feature
  • Transparent Goalposts are enabled by default, but can be toggled off to return to their previous, non-transparent behavior
    • To disable, uncheck the ‘Transparent Goalposts’ box in your Video settings under the Options submenu
  • Introduction of sound ducking in the audible items of the garage
    • When browsing customization items with audio (Goal Explosions, Boosts), in-game background audio/music volume will automatically lower
  • Added delay before playing ‘hover’ item sound to reduce audio spamming in garage
  • Performance pass on general gameplay to reduce voice count on lower volume assets
Director Camera (Beta)
  • A new Spectator camera option called ‘Director’ has been added
  • The Director is an AI-controlled Camera mode that predicts Shots, Goals, and Saves and cuts to the best player view to frame the action

Competitive Season 5
  • Competitive Season 5 has ended. Titles and items will be awarded for your highest rank achieved during the season. Season 5 Rewards are custom, non-tradeable Player Banners
  • Receiving the Season 5 Reward Player Banners is also contingent upon successful completion of Season Reward Levels
  • Reward Player Banners:
    • ‘Season 5 - Bronze (Dragon)'
    • ‘Season 5 - Silver (Dragon)'
    • ‘Season 5 - Gold (Dragon)'
    • ‘Season 5 - Platinum (Dragon)'
    • ‘Season 5 - Diamond (Dragon)'
    • ‘Season 5 - Champion (Dragon)'
    • ‘Season 5 - Grand Champion (Dragon)'
      • Season 5 Grand Champions will also receive the 'Season 5 Grand Champion' Title
  • A second set of Season Reward Player Banners will also be awarded, with the same requirements outlined above:
    • 'Season 5 - Bronze'
    • 'Season 5 - Silver'
    • 'Season 5 - Gold'
    • 'Season 5 - Platinum'
    • 'Season 5 - Diamond'
    • 'Season 5 - Champion'
    • 'Season 5 - Grand Champion'
Competitive Season 6
  • Competitive Season 6 has begun
    • Season 6 brings a “soft reset” that requires you to do placement matches in each playlist to recalibrate
    • Winning half of your placement matches will land you near your previous season ranking
    • Rank requirements have been updated to distribute more players into Platinum tier and higher, and to reduce the amount of players in Bronze I
    • League Rankings will be temporarily empty until players complete their placement matches
Local Match (Steam Only)
  • Players on Steam can now host and join LAN matches directly through the Play menu
    • ‘Host Local Lobby’ to create a LAN server that other players can join on your network
    • ‘Find Local Lobby’ to browse for LAN servers you can connect to
  • Local / LAN matches allow you and your friends to compete without the need for an internet connection
  • The LAN Lobby creator is hosting the match on their computer. Using Alt-Tab in Fullscreen mode or taking other actions on that computer may affect server performance. Using a Spectator PC to host the lobby for LAN events is recommended
Known Issues
  • Starbase ARC has a few textures that aren't rendering correctly at map start
    • These textures should correct once a match begins, should not affect gameplay
  • Xbox One may crash in Main Menu if opening and closing too many menus quickly
Bug Fixes
  • Bumping and Demolish Updates
    • Fixed an issue where car collisions could be incorrectly handled depending on the order the physics engine processed them in
    • Fixed an issue where Demolishes and Bumps could be incorrectly handled depending on the depth of its bumper penetration into the other car’s collision.
  • Ball Indicator on Champions Field has been fixed
  • Restored Batmobile to its pre-Anniversary Update state based on community feedback
  • The Steam Controller now works as intended on Mac hardware
  • Party members can no longer be pulled out of a Ranked match by a Party Leader
  • Winning player no longer receives a loss when leaving a Ranked 1v1 match during an overtime Goal Replay
  • Entering Free Play while joining an Online Match no longer prevents players from joining an Online Match
Xbox One
  • Crash fixes
  • Fixed a performance issue related to a few Achievements
  • Fixed an issue where VSync was not being properly disabled even when checked off in the Video Options
Rocket League®

Rocket League's Autumn Update releases today at 3 pm Pacific, kicking off Competitive Season 6 and bringing major changes to car soccer. I'm particularly excited about the addition of transparent goalposts—finally, goaltenders will be able to see whether the ball (or puck) is about to drop on the goal line, or if it's bounding into the corner, rather than peeking out to find it already behind them. We are truly blessed.

Though if you were fond of non-standard arenas Wasteland and Starbase ARC, you'll only be able to access their original layouts in private matches come update time, as they've been converted to the standard arena shape in all other modes. "We see Rocket League as a digital sport," said Psyonix about the change in a recent post. "As such, we think standardization is important and necessary to provide a level playing field and foster consistent competition across all skill levels and events."

Speaking of private matches, this update also adds LAN play. Every multiplayer game should have LAN support, especially a competitive one like Rocket League, so it's better late than never.

Finally, the Autumn Update brings us "over 90" customization items, "player banners," and a new seasonal arena, Farmstead—check out a few golden screenshots of it below. This is just the motivation I needed to sink a hundred more hours into Rocket League, at least if I can pull myself away from Original Sin 2.

Team Fortress 2

Image via Deviantart user GtkShroom

Loot boxes are everywhere. They're in shooters, RPGs, card games, action games and MOBAs. They also take the form of packs, chests and crates. They're filled with voice lines, weapon skins, new pants or materials to get you more loot boxes. They're in free games and paid ones, singleplayer and multiplayer. They can be free to open and paid for with real money. You may feel an almost violent antipathy to the very idea of them, but you've probably also opened a fair few.

The appeal isn't hard to grasp. Opening a loot box is a rush: a moment of anticipation followed by release. That colourful animated flurry is often accompanied by disappointment, but is sometimes with the joy of getting exactly the item that you wanted. And then you feel the gambler's pull to open another, pushing you back into the game to grind or digging into your wallet to earn or buy your next one.

"It's that moment of excitement that anything's possible," Ben Thompson, art director on Hearthstone, tells me. "In that moment I could be getting the cards I've been looking for for ten or 20 packs. That anticipation has always been a key point in games in general; successful games build on anticipation and release, whether a set of effects or in gameplay."

Loot boxes' ubiquity might be fairly new, but they've been around rather longer than you might think. Economic sociologist Vili Lehdonvirta has suggested that they appeared in their modern form first in the Chinese free-to-play MMO ZT Online in around 2006 or 2007. A Chinese newspaper described how for a yuan you would buy a key: "When the key is applied to the chest, the screen will display a glittering chest opening. All kinds of materials and equipment spin inside the chest like the drums on a slot machine as the wheel of light spins." Yep, sounds like a loot box. 

But they've also been around far longer in the form of baseball cards and Magic: The Gathering packs, and, if you think about it, even in identifying magic items in D&D. In each case you experience the same notes of suspense and reveal, and also the way the reward is separated from the action you took to earn them. That's an important distinction. Loot boxes aren't quite the same as the shower of loot you get for killing an elite monster in Diablo. There's more of a build-up, and rather than being focused on moment-to-moment play, your view is being pulled out far wider, into the meta game, into the larger systems that give you reasons to keep swinging your sword.

Loot boxes are appearing in more triple-A games, like Gears of War 4.

The psychology of loot

Why do loot boxes provide such a dark compulsion? Psychologists call the principle by which they work on the human mind 'variable rate reinforcement.' "The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably," says Dr Luke Clark, director at the Center for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia. "We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis."

We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards.

Dr. Luke Clark

What's more, the effect of variable rate reinforcement is very persistent. Psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted trials during the early 1930s in which he conditioned animals to respond to certain stimuli in closed chambers that became known as Skinner Boxes, and showed that even when the rewards were removed, the subject would continue responding for sometimes hundreds of trials, trying to recreate the circumstances in which it got its reward before.

"Modern video games then amplify this idea by having many overlapping variable ratio schedules," says Clark. "You're trying to level up, advance your avatar, get rare add-ons, build up game currency, all at the same time. What this means is that there is a regular trickle of some kind of reinforcement." Whether you're watching your XP climb up to the next level in Overwatch, or you're collecting scraps in Battlefield 1 by breaking down skins, there's a constant sense of reward leading to reward.

The clever—or insidious—bit is how a loot box is wired into a game, and how it doles out its baubles, keeping a player on the knife-edge between feeling hungry and feeling rewarded. One such system is Battlefield 1’s Battlepacks. Standard Battlepacks are earned by playing multiplayer matches. They used to be randomly awarded, but they recently switched to an Overwatch-like progression bar system for more regular drops. Each one is a guaranteed weapon skin or one of a number of pieces of a unique weapon. So that would seem satisfying, if it wasn’t for the scrap system.

Here, you can turn your skins into scraps an in-game currency called Scraps, which will buy you more Battlepacks. And they’re the only way without spending real money that you can access Superior and Enhanced Battlepacks, two upper tiers which have rather better chances of dropping Distinguished or Legendary weapon skins. The result is a system which ekes out rewards and then asks you to question them and wonder: should you dispose of them in the interests of getting better stuff?

It’s a complex system with a lot to get your head around, and remember: Battlefield 1 is meant to primarily be an FPS, not a lottery game. In other games, loot systems sit more centrally, and few are more central as the card packs in Hearthstone. Since it’s a collectible card game, they’re perhaps so fundamental to the game that it's inaccurate to consider them loot boxes in the same vein as the controversial packs of skins and items added to recent big-budget games like Destiny 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Still, they're a great example of the loot box's principles. 

How Blizzard designs loot boxes

The clever or insidious bit is how a loot box is wired into a game, and how it doles out its baubles, keeping a player on the knife-edge between feeling hungry and feeling rewarded.

You can buy packs in Hearthstone with an in-game currency called gold. There are several ways to earn it, but the key methods are that every third game you win awards you with 10 gold, and for each daily quest you complete, such as winning games with a certain class, you'll get at least 40 gold. A card pack costs 100, so you can expect to earn at least one every couple of days. This system is subtly integrated into play; most quests gently encourage you to try classes and playstyles you're not used to, while also rewarding you for simply playing the way you like. Or you can just buy card packs with real money. Classic card packs cost $3 for two, $10 for seven, and the scale goes up to $70 for 60. Despite the pride some take in being free-to-play, most will spend money at some point, while those who don't get the reward of telling themselves they're saving money by playing. 

The five cards you get in each pack will be taken from across all the game's classes, at least one of which will be 'rare' quality. "We're just straightforward with it," says Thompson, but it has other benefits. "People are more inspired to try different and new things. So if I get a number of Shaman cards, maybe it's interesting for me to start to build a Shaman deck? Or I can craft them into cards I do want in the game. We allow player agency to dictate it, but we also avoid putting them in a position where they choose themselves out of experiences." 

The loot box's place in Overwatch is quite different since they contain cosmetic items—skins, emotes, voice lines and victory poses—rather than the very thing you play with. But you acquire them in a similar way: play with any character and you earn XP, with various bonuses granted, for example, by playing with friends and for good performance. Level up, which is possible every hour or so, and you earn a loot box.

"We aimed for players earning a box or two in a gaming session, so that you wouldn't walk away from a session empty-handed," principal designer Michael Heiberg tells me. "An earlier version of the game's progression system had per-hero experience levels, with rewards at various hero levels. In testing, though, we saw players picking heroes based on these hero level rewards instead of picking based on what the team needed, or even what they felt like playing. It was a bust, and we knew we needed to disassociate your hero picks from the rewards. Based on that, we shifted to a system with randomized rewards that you could earn by playing as any hero."

Overwatch's loot box is a masterpiece of audio-visual design. "It's all about building the anticipation. When the box is there you're excited at the possibilities of what could be inside," says senior game designer Jeremy Craig. Click the ‘Open loot box’ button and the box bursts open, sending four disks into the sky. Their rarity is indicated by coloured streaks to further build the suspense. "Seeing purple or gold you start to think about what specific legendary or epic you've unlocked. This all happens so fast, but it was those discrete steps that we felt maximized excitement and anticipation."

Hearthstone's opening animation is likewise engineered to trigger anticipation, and also to make the cards desirable objects and to imbue them with a sense of value. From the start it was important that they'd evoke real collectible cards. As Thompson says: "Ripping that foil pack and feeling it give, that moment of excitement that anything's possible."

Rather than hitting a button and watching, as you do when opening most loot boxes, from Battlefield 1 to Overwatch, you have to drag a pack over to what Blizzard calls the altar. There's a brief moment as blue magical power builds, and then, in the case of the classic packs, the cards suddenly burst out in a shower of glitter and gold. With Journey to Un'goro packs, they emerge in a crackle of lightning (which echoes its evolve mechanic), and a shattering of ice in the Knights of the Frozen Throne packs.

The challenge was to design a sequence that would feel special to those opening a single pack while not wearying those opening 50 in a row. "If you buy that many you don't want to spend half your day opening them, you want to get them open and start building decks and experience the real focus of the game," says Thompson. "As much ceremony as we want to put into the pack opening, we need to keep it concise." The sweet spot, it turns out, is about two seconds. 

As Overwatch does, Hearthstone indicates the rarity level of the cards you'll be getting before the cards are actually revealed. Mouse over their backs and you'll see a colored glow on rare, epic or legendaries. "We don't immediately flip them, we let player agency take a seat in the sense of controlling what order they flip them in, how they flip them, the time between each flip."

Loot makes you superstitious

That hint of control is quietly important to the design of Hearthstone's card packs. "What we found in talking to people is that superstition sets in," says Thompson. "What you'll find in psychology is that if the outcome is of high import, you know like, 'Gosh I hope I get a legendary in this,' and if player agency is unclear in terms of your ability to manifest any kind of change in the outcome and there's a little bit of randomness involved, superstition takes hold. That agency and sense of involvement and choice is super important in terms of the experience and the enjoyment of it." 

You've probably dabbled in something like it too, by performing some kind of personal rite before opening a loot box. Here's YouTuber Jordan 'Kootra' Mathewson mass-opening Team Fortress 2 crates his own way. This behaviour is actually common across many species: Skinner discovered in 1947 that even pigeons exhibit it. He observed that they’d practise little rituals in the hope that they’d cause food to appear, including turning around in their cages or nodding their heads, and yet the food was given to them at entirely regular intervals. The absence of any explanation of why the food appeared had conditioned them to believe their actions caused it. On a deep level, our own minds work the same way.

Skinner observed that pigeons practised little rituals in the hope that they d cause food to appear, including turning around in their cages or nodding their heads.

Overwatch and Hearthstone contrast with the common way loot boxes are presented. The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive model, in which the gun skins in the crate scroll by, slot machine-style, is a direct evolution of the old ZT Online design. Their distinct lack of visual pizazz is compensated for with the graphic way they show you what you could have won, and when the needle just misses the item you wanted, it's hard not to reach for another go, even though as far as CS:GO is concerned it's as black and white a result as rolling a die.

This design closely mirrors the near-misses in many forms of gambling, from horse racing to roulette. As psychologist Luke Clark has said, "A moderate frequency of near-misses encourages prolonged gambling, even in student volunteers who do not gamble on a regular basis. Problem gamblers often interpret near-misses as evidence that they are mastering the game and that a win is on the way."

In most countries, including the US and UK, loot boxes are not legally considered gambling because the winnings have no intrinsic value outside the game (in China, laws have actually forced developers like Blizzard and Valve to publish the drop rates of their loot boxes). But in being expensive to buy and based on the same psychological principles, we have to treat them with the same care.

Why do we love collecting stuff?

Loot boxes also plug into another facet of psychology: collection. In 1991, Dr Ruth Formanek in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality suggested five reasons we feel the compulsion to collect, including 'extending the self' by obtaining knowledge or having sole control over one's collection, the social benefits of collecting leading to meeting like-minded others, creating a sense of continuity in the world, financial investment, and addiction or compulsion. Alternatively, Freud suggested that it's rooted in a deep desire to reclaim the poo you excreted as a baby. 

We don't want players getting frustrated because they're earning none of the best rewards. We also don't want players getting bored because they earned all of the best rewards at once.

Michael Heiberg, Overwatch

Whichever theory you go with, loot boxes are almost always filled with collectibles. Overwatch's boards of sprays and percentage counts for completion rates on characters remind you of what you've accrued, and Hearthstone is a collectible card game. Games as a whole highlight an interesting distinction between freeform and structured collection. Collecting, say, baseball caps is freeform collection because you can accrue them indefinitely. But games present a very structured form of collection, tapping into several powerful motivational principles. You're working towards a clear and achievable goal and you can see your progress towards it. During matches you get to show it off to others who are also immersed in collecting the same items, a chance to feel both kinship and bask in the status your collection confers. 

And there are systems of scarcity, driving value towards certain items. But managing them is a delicate art. "We use rarity levels primarily to control the frequency of getting our most exciting content," says Overwatch principal designer Heiberg. "We don't want players getting frustrated because they're earning none of the best rewards. We also don't want players getting bored because they earned all of the best rewards at once. Rarity levels give us some control over the pace of these rewards."

Both Overwatch and Hearthstone's designers are careful not to dictate value. "We learned that the value of our cosmetic content varies widely from player to player, and that no distribution of rarities was likely to really jive with everyone," Heiberg continues.

"Some players are super excited about that rare card and the legendary doesn't mean so much, and similarly you'll have someone trying to build an all-Murloc deck and they're going to be more excited about a common Murloc as opposed to the legendary of a class they're not after. We let those moments be fun at every level and not focusing on legendary cards being awesome and how you should get all of them, but rather let the player get excited about any aspect of the opening."

It's easy to feel uncomfortable with loot boxes. They have a powerful capacity to manipulate your behaviour and extract considerable amount of time and money from you with systems that aren't the core game you actually want to play. The bad ones use these tricks to make you value in-game items that you might not choose to in the cold light of day. They can pull you to do things to acquire them that you’ll regret in the long term. But the well-designed ones give you space to find your own value in the trinkets they dole out. That's an indicator that they respect you, and a sign that they recognise—correctly—that collection should be a reward in itself.

"Pack opening is an area that took a fair bit of time to develop because it's a moment players will spend a lot of time with," says Thompson. "More importantly, they'll spend money there and any time our players are investing time and money we want to give them a very fair and honest return. We want people to walk away feeling they got value from it, and that value can come from not just a return on that time or money but also fun. We say we make decisions in Hearthstone based on how much fun players are having, and pack opening is no less of that."


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