Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds has become the game that offers loot crates that most feels like gambling, with the ability for some players to make real-world money by lucking their way into rare items. The developer itself, not to mention Steam, is also going to profit handsomely from the system.
The methods by which it’s doing this aren’t novel, but the whole thing is being designed with what seems like an eye toward the games that have come before while also trying to get ahead of criticisms by being transparent about how it all works.
The end result, however, is going to be a system that lets players spend real money in the hopes of striking it rich selling rare items.
Where’s the outrage?
It’s very easy to ignore the loot box aspect of PUBG, because it doesn’t impact the game itself. You don’t have to worry about cosmetics if you don’t want to, and rare items don’t do much to change the balance of the game itself. It’s a side system, and that’s part of the reason it’s so insidious. It looks almost like a game with a themed casino attached, even if both sides of the business have only a glancing relationship with each other.
The odds of getting the new items, at least on the test server at the time of publication, have been posted on the official site. You have a 40 percent chance of getting a desperado crate, and you will get the rarest item in 0.16 percent of those crates. The rarest item overall is the checkered cloth mask in the biker crates, which you’ll find in 0.01 percent of the crates you’ll open. The amount of disclosure on these odds is welcome, but the rest of the situation is a bit hazier.
PUBG doesn’t just sell crates, nor can you earn as many as you’d like. There’s a limit of six crates per week on your account, and the developer itself has, in the past, indicated this is done to keep rarity of certain items low, which increases their value.
“The reason crates get more expensive the more you buy is to enforce a soft limit on the number of crates you can buy a week,” an older version of the game’s FAQ stated. “This creates an economy based on our skins. Limiting the number of crates you can obtain a week is important to make sure there is rarity within items so there’s value in the marketplace.”
That language has been removed from the current FAQ, and now the number of crates you can get in a week has been changed to a hard limit of six. Here is the current language that explains how you get crates:
Go to Rewards – Get Crates menu at the game lobby to purchase a crate with your BP. The initial purchase price is 700BP and you can buy up to 6 crates a week. The price will increase with each crate you buy (700 / 1400 / 2800 / 4200 / 5400 / 7000) ...
You will receive one of Wanderer / Survivor / BIKER / DESPERADO crates randomly when you purchase a crate. The Early Bird Key (paid item) is needed to open the DESPERADO crate.
It’s a strange system. You purchase crates using BP, which you earn by playing the game. Certain crates require a key to open, and you have to purchase that key using real money. The unopened crates, or their contents once you’ve opened them, can then be sold on the Steam marketplace. You can also buy items or crates from other players.
There will be no grinding for these items. You either luck into one, or you don’t. Which means the value is bound to shoot up in the secondary market, where players buy and sell items for real-world money.
This is Wikipedia’s definition of gambling:
Gambling is the wagering of money or something of value (referred to as “the stakes”) on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning money or material goods. Gambling thus requires three elements be present: consideration, chance and prize.
That definition is arguable, and the laws themselves can differ from state to state and games such as PUBG operate in a legal gray area right now.
But legislation could be on the way, and it’s hard to find an argument that would qualify this sort of artificial scarcity of a non-scarce item that’s controlled by a company hoping to create a secondary market in which it can profit from the sale of that item a second time (deep breath) as being somehow something other than gambling. This economy may not impact the game directly, but that doesn’t make the intent nor the result of its inclusion any less clear.
PUBG is selling loot boxes that are limited in supply that may contain items that are made artificially scarce so those items gain real-world value on an open, largely unregulated marketplace on Steam. A few fans will make a lot of money by finding the rare items, but PUBG itself is likely going to make a ridiculous amount of money enabling and profiting from this market’s existence.
This isn’t a new idea, as rare items in games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Team Fortress 2 have also been sold on the secondary market, and Counter-Strike has already had its own gambling controversies. The loot box economy in this case, and other cases like it, barely has anything to do with the game at all. It’s all a side hustle.
The difference is that PUBG seems to be creating this entire system, complete with posted percentages, as a way to create a transparent system that also creates value on the secondary market. You don’t have to guess at how rare these items are, you know you have very little chance at getting them through the game itself. That’s going to send people to the marketplace, and there’s an argument to be made that it’s all being done within the rules of Steam.
Which is accurate, but it looks suspiciously like a system meant to facilitate a risk-based system designed to make the house money. If only we had a name for that.