Activision Blizzard has been forced by the Chinese government to alter Overwatch‘s “loot box” drop tables after China imposed a law governing item drop rates in online loot box-based games, which came into effect on May 1. According to a report by Gameranx, the law is intended to ensure that consumers know exactly what they are paying for. It is worth noting that apart from State-sanctioned lotteries, all forms of gambling are illegal (if still rampant) in China, apart from Hong Kong and Macau, which are still governed under more European legal systems. If we’re being honest, those loot boxes are a form of gambling: pay money for a chance at a good item.
Blizzard has also stated that the current loot box alterations in Overwatch will apply to China only, and it’s worth noting at this point that loot box items in Overwatch are entirely cosmetic: they don’t alter the player’s performance in any measurable way and are entirely optional.
Thanks to being a loot box game on top of its $40-60 price tag, Overwatch is Activision Blizzard’s new cash cow, bringing in some $1 billion last year. Each box costs from between $2 to $0.80, depending how many the player buys at once, and they now account for a majority of Blizzard’s profits – according to VentureBeat, Overwatch contributed to 80 percent – $1.386 billion out of $1.726 billion – of the publisher’s total net revenue for the quarter, and Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick specifically credits Overwatch for the company’s strong results. Overwatch is the company’s fastest-growing game, and it brought their in-game content sales figures up 25 percent in their last year-over-year.
Loot box games are now big business, and the Chinese government thinks that consumers should know what they’re getting upfront – and that it should be fair.
According to Forbes, the numbers for Overwatch‘s official “compliance” update are as follows:
- Each loot box contains four items, where “item” means either cosmetics or in-game currency
- Each loot box is guaranteed to contain at least one item of “rare” (blue) quality
- Every 5.5 loot boxes, on average, contains one item of “epic” (purple) quality
- Every 13.5 loot boxes, on average, contains one item of “legendary” (orange) quality
That translates to an 18 percent chance at an epic item, and a 7.4 percent chance at a legendary item. Put another way, roughly speaking, you’ll get one epic for every $5 or so spent, and one legendary for every $10. The numbers also don’t differentiate between duplicate items or epic/legendary in-game currency drops. There is also speculation that, much like Activision Blizzard’s Hearthstone, the loot rates include a “pity timer” where the chance of a legendary item increases with each box opened without one.
For the record, these numbers probably don’t apply outside of China; Blizzard is only revealing them due to the legal requirement. There is some speculation, although it is no more than that, that Overwatch loot box drop rates may be different in different regions, or may even change over time; as some have noted, although unlikely due to the scandal if it came out, a company running a loot box game could alter drop rates to drive revenues based on player behavior – for example, if players in one region are more likely to keep buying loot boxes until they reveal a legendary item (or even a specific item,) one might be tempted to tweak drop rates to encourage them to buy more loot boxes.
Adding some credence to these theories is that they seem to hold somewhat true for Blizzard’s card game, Hearthstone, which also allows players to buy “random” booster packs. They were forced to reveal Hearthstone‘s Chinese numbers as well, and while they were about what players expected – one rare per pack, one epic every five packs, one legendary every 20 packs – Blizzard remained as vague as possible and didn’t reveal drop rates for so-called “golden legendaries” (perhaps better known to players of games like Magic: The Gathering as a foil card) – a version of an existing card with special visuals. Those cards are estimated to have some 1 in 100 odds per pack, but Blizzard isn’t telling.
Activision Blizzard is the first company to comply with the new Chinese regulations, but more are sure to follow.
[Featured Image by Activision Blizzard]