Do you remember cheat codes? From gaming’s youngest years well up to the late 2000s, cheat codes were an essential for most games. And then one day, they just died out. Seemingly overnight something happened that changed the approach of most publishers. They realized they could charge for something that was previously free.
The commercial success of loot boxes and modern gambling mechanics in video games has reshaped the fundamentals of game development. The priority for many publishers is no longer just to ship as many $60 games as possible. Instead, they now see an opportunity to keep charging the same customer over and over.
At first, it seems a tad selfish, but it could be considered fair game. They’re just a company trying to maximize profits, right? The problem is how they choose to go about it. These modern AAA publishers exploit gambling mechanics popularized in casinos to trick players into paying up.
1Gambling’s Near Miss Fallacy
The most important aspect of keeping a player hooked is cognitive manipulation. Under no circumstances does a casino want you to realize you aren’t going to win. Obviously, when that fact sinks in the spending naturally stops. But how are they going to convince someone to carry on when the odds are so stacked against the player in the first place. This is where R. L. Reid’s near-miss theory comes into play.
A near miss never suggests a player has lost. Instead, it is a special kind of failure where the player perceives themselves as almost winning. The outcome is the same as a loss, yet a player’s cognition will view it as being closer to a win. Casinos implement this strategy in several ways. For example, have you ever noticed that slot machines regularly land on two out of the three matched symbols? That’s no accident.
Modern video games are just as guilty of this practice. Games like DOTA 2 and CS: GO use scrolling visuals that showcase everything the player can win. By design, many of the common drops are placed next to rarer, more expensive items. With CS: GO, when a player opens a crate they see an indicator showing what they’ve won. If a player sees this indicator very narrowly miss out on that special knife worth $500, they’re likely to think they just missed out.
This is not the case. All loot boxes are scripted algorithms that determine what you win before any visuals are shown. The visual indicator means nothing. It is solely there to promote a near miss gambling mentality. By tricking less informed players into thinking they got close to a big drop, publishers know they are more likely to keep spending.