Friday, March 16, 2018


Imagine that there are two MMO players: Sally and Lucy. Both of them regularly play the same four MMOs: Game A, B, C, and D. However, they don't play each game equally, but for different amounts of time. Sally and Lucy spend 50% of their time in A, 25% in B, 15% in C, and 10% in D.

Both players have the same entertainment budget of $60 per month.  However, how each spends that budget is different.  Sally prefers to spend $15 on each game. Lucy, on the other hand, spends all $60 on game A, and $0 in the other three games.

GameTime SpentSallyLucy

My contention is that Lucy is a more accurate model of how most gamers want to spend their money. She doesn't mind spending a significant amount of money on her hobby. However, there is a threshold which a game has to surpass to be considered worth spending money, and all the money goes to those games which surpass the threshold (usually only one game). Even though Lucy spends 50% of her time in other games, they don't get any money at all.

Of course, if next month Lucy spends most of her time in game B, she will spend the $60 in game B.

There is a minority of gamers who are like Sally, though. Who prefer subscriptions and spreading the spending around.

I think the reason lockboxes are so popular is that they more closely match how Lucy wants to pay for her games. I think the game companies would prefer Sally and subscriptions. Witness how many games attempt to start with subscriptions but have to convert to F2P and lockboxes. The game companies are stuck with a audience of Lucys.

The common refrain in the community lately is that lockboxes are evil and predatory. The vocal community, though, tends to be Sallys. Perhaps lockboxes are empowering for Lucy instead, allowing her to spend her money exactly as she would prefer, even if Sally thinks that way is illogical and foolish.


  1. Lockboxes are "popular" (to developers) because if Game A is a subscription, Lucy only sends them $15/month - the other $45 is left on the table, or spent elsewhere. Or perhaps Lucy spends $60 a few months out of the year, when a particularly good mount or other cosmetic item appears in the cash shop.

    Conversely, lockboxes ensure a more constant revenue stream because you end up purchasing things you did not want. In what world is that "empowering" to someone? Indeed, if the randomness is the empowering feature, what does that say about Lucy's predilection to gambling? If Lucy wants to donate money to the developers, she should just write them a check and mail it in.

  2. I would contend, given what we have heard from devs, that the more accurate picture of most gamer behavior is somebody who spends no money at all, at least not in a free to play environment. There was just a report up over on Ad Week about how whales are responsible for 70% of revenue in such games.

    Subscriptions barely enter into the discussion because they require everybody to pay something, so drive off a lot of potential customers.

    And, among those who will subscribe, I get a sense that there tends to be more focus on the game you subscribe to and play rather than a range of subscription games. Sally is much more likely to be spending just $15 to Lucy's $60.

    Finally, I have never actually run into anybody who has anything that resembles a monthly budget for video games. Video games, and cash shop purchases, seem to be much more impulse purchases than something you chart out in advance and for which lay aside a set amount of dollars.

    As for lock boxes, I don't think you have established at all that Lucy is happier buying random results rather than buying items she wants without having to waste her money on dupes and items she doesn't care about.

    So, interesting situation setup, but unless you have some study that backs up your assumptions, it is just forced logic.

  3. My belief is that the lockboxes are a tease out there to get someone to drop a few bucks and see what they get. If you've a game that people play and just a small percentage of people drop money on lockboxes, that's money that would have gone to something other than any of the games in question. From that perspective, lockboxes are the equivalent of website ads (or "Nigerian Prince" style spam mail). It doesn't take many people to buy from lockboxes to make it profitable in as much the same way that it only takes one person to click on that link in a spam e-mail to make it profitable for the spammer.

  4. Completely wrong. Just because Lucy spends $60 on the game, she shouldn't be forced to gamble. She should be able to straight buy whatever she wants to buy.

    Lockboxes are predatory not because they take $60 from Lucy, but because she might get absolutely nothing, based on "luck" ("" because the RNG isn't third party or audited, meaning guaranteed to be rigged)