After the discussion on F2P last week, the conversation turned to lock-boxes. These are items which you purchase with real money, where the contents of the box is unknown. Lock-boxes are becoming more and more common in F2P games.
I think a lot of how you feel about lock-boxes depends on how you feel about gambling.
I am ambivalent about gambling. Making a small bet on a sporting event, or buying lottery tickets every so often doesn't seem that bad to me. But playing hand after hand of blackjack--losing some hands, winning some hands, the losing more hands--feels wrong.
In some ways it's the difference between luck and probability. On a small scale, Lady Luck dominates. But as the number of repetitions increases, the Law of Large Numbers kicks in, and the outcome approaches the expected value. And in all gambling games, the expected value is negative so that the house or bookie makes money.
Maybe it's an idiosyncratic view, but I'm okay with betting on the outcome of a football game. But I wouldn't be okay with betting on the outcome of each play within that game. The odds offered will favor the house, and enough repetition means the house's edge becomes mathematically real.
I also don't approve of casinos. I once went to a local casino. In my mind, I had an image of a casino, mostly formed by movies and television. Some place where the people are slightly dressed up, with cards and dice, and all the traditional trappings.
The reality of the casino was rows and rows of slot machines. Something like 80% of the floor was dedicated to slots. People didn't even use coins! They had a plastic card inserted into the machine, keeping track of the money won or lost. The card was attached to their belt by a plastic cord. It almost looked vampiric, as if the slot machine was draining their life through the cord.
I don't think I am usually fanciful, but that casino had an almost palpable aura of despair.
I left in a hurry, and actually ended up having an excellent crème brûlée at a nearby restaurant. All in all, I counted the dessert as a much better experience than the casino would have been.
Maybe Vegas would be different, more like the idealized version. But if I am ever in a position to vote against or block a casino, I will do so.
Back from the digression, I think my view on gambling greatly influences my view on lock-boxes.
There are two types of lock-boxes. The first type is the basic box that contains one item. The item might be rare, or the item might be common. Most of the time, you'll be disappointed. I think the boxes in Guild Wars 2 and most eastern MMOs are like this.
The second type of lock-box are collectible packs, based on collectible card games. The pack contains multiple items, with a fixed rarity. For example, a pack might contain 1 rare item, 2 uncommon items, and 4 common items. You may not get the specific rare you want, but you are guaranteed a rare. Most of the time, these items are tradeable with others. This is the system that The Old Republic uses.
In my opinion, the first type of lock-box is too much like excessive gambling. It displays the lose, win, lose pattern, along with much repetition that characterizes "bad" gambling for me.
In contrast, the collectible packs seem fair to me. The payout is consistent from pack to pack. You always get a rare. You can trade the items with other collectors. Most of the time the items are all cosmetic, so the value of each item is in the eye of the beholder. (Unlike CCGs, where the power level of the card within the game often determines the monetary value.)
So given a choice, I would prefer a F2P game to sell collectible packs rather than single-item lock-boxes. It seems fairer and not as exploitative.