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8 minute read

Why am I as a player concerned/obsessed with Loot?

The concept of “Loot” has been discussed fairly frequently recently. And a lot of the issues that stem from its usage in games and gamified experiences comes from the Lootbox; a box full of unknown items given to the player, with the player hoping that something of value is in it.


Loot, as the etymology of the word shows, is about getting things (originally through illicit means). Examples of this in games and gamification are with the classic ones of the Foursquare badges and the Pokémon in Pokémon Go (or any other Pokémon game). And there are hundreds of other examples, each one is essentially about getting and collecting things, or items. As the catch phrase of Pokémon suggests: “gotta catch ‘em all!”.


That is the basis of many loot systems, getting all of it. Essentially people want to have a complete set, only then will they be “fulfilled”, even though its an imagined fulfillment created by the system they are taking part in usually. But loot systems can be very useful if used wisely.


Loot systems & You


A loot system, if done wisely and well, connected with a progression system, can increase player engagement in your experience. By adding long-term goals and rewards associated with those goals, the player will want to remain for longer to achieve those goals. Anyone that has ever played an RPG will know this feeling, if only you get that one item you be able to finally do that challenge with ease.


Those “rare” items in turn also offer a level of value to the experience. The player is investing time, and perhaps money and that item of loot is a representation of their commitment and involvement in your experience. Rewarding them for their loyalty can truly connect them to your experience at a deeply intrinsic level.


And of course, loot items can foster a community (of sorts), because people love to show off. What’s the point of having that amazing item, if you can’t boast about it to others. Especially if it was hard earned, it is a symbol of commitment and esteem within a community.


Why is loot fun?


The overall purpose of a loot system should be for the benefit of the player. But why do players enjoy getting loot, what is it about this that keeps bringing people back?


Essentially, it’s about 3 things in my opinion:


·         Curiosity

·         Hoarding/Collecting

·         Fulfilment


 Curiosity – Loot as a concept and item should always be hidden from the player until they acquire it. What I mean by this, is that receiving an item for an activity or challenge should always come as a surprise to the player. This is why they do it because it’s random, unpredictable and they enjoy the sense of amazement.


Hoarding/Collecting – As we know already, people love collecting things, completing sets, getting more, yet different versions of the same thing. Either you yourself or someone close to you has a hobby of collecting something. Card games like Magic: The Gathering thrive on this, but also historical representation sets, such as recreating the battle of Waterloo in miniature. Or even collecting fridge magnets from all the places you’ve been to. Each one creates a want and a need within us to go to the next place to get the next item in our collection.


Fulfillment – And finally, once we’ve been to that next location and gotten that next item, we feel a little more fulfilled. The trick is though, to never reach complete fulfillment because once you’ve gotten all the fridge magnets from everywhere (highly unlikely), you won’t know what to do next. It’s better to say that loot systems are because they always keep at the edge of fulfillment.


The Internal thought process behind Loot


Despite the player enjoyment and benefits that you can achieve by using a loot system in your gamified experiences, you do need to consider the basic psychology that makes it work. The psychological mechanisms that make loot so fun, are also the same mechanisms that cause obsession and addiction.


There are 4 aspects that influence players to keep coming back to a loot system:


·         Magical Thinking

·         “Luck”

·         Sunk Cost

·         Habit


Magical Thinking – This aspect is innocent enough, but it can become an issue for players if they get too caught up in the acquisition of loot. Magical thinking is essentially the belief that an activity or ritual can be enacted that will alter the statistical likelihood of something happening, it’s also known as the Gamblers Fallacy. Such as the obsessed gambler always wearing their lucky ring and kissing it before they throw the dice because this little ritual will make them luckier somehow.


This fallacy can be paired with the illusion of control. Which is a useful mechanic to keep people engaged, as everyone likes to be in control of their own destiny. Offering a choice in a random selection, for example with 3 different loot boxes, each an unknown quantity. But the player feels as if they are in control, and a ritual may “increase” their odds of getting what they want.


Luck – Or rather “almost lucky”, this is the mechanic of showing the player what they could almost have gotten if they were luckier somehow. Like the slot machine that ticks one image too far, or the dice roll that could have landed, if only it had shifted that one millimeter. This as well links quite nicely with Magical Thinking.


Sunk Cost – The Sunk Cost Effect is what happens when people feel that they have invested quite a lot of time (and money), for the experience to be continued. They don’t want to stop, because of the investment they’ve made. Which leads to them continuing, thereby making the sunk cost even stronger. It works with the “just one more time” syndrome, the belief that if you go just once more, somehow the extrapolation of time, activity and investment will make the endeavor more worthwhile.


Habit – The outcome of all of these aspects is that eventually, a habit can form. The player will want to come back, because the more time they invest, the more likely they will get what they want. This is true from a statistical perspective and can be a good thing as long as you reward the player with something worthwhile for their tenacity. This habit formation can, therefore, be strengthened with the “Availability Heuristic”, the concept that something has a greater probability because it happened in recent memory. This can be further augmented with a community, in other words, my friend got that item just last week, it shouldn’t be long before I get it now.


All of these are great ways to heavily engage players in your experience, and as some of the examples have shown, also ways to get them obsessed and addicted. You want them to have a healthy engagement with your experience, if it becomes an addiction, then it is possible that your players will burn out and leave, and that’s not something we want.


Doing loot right


I’m going to assume the game or gamified experience you are creating will in some way ask your players to pay for the privilege of enjoying it. And there is nothing wrong with that, as everyone should be recompensed in some way for the time and effort that they have put into something, payment is your loot as it were.


This is also the best way to have a loot system in your experience then, as an upfront payment then means that the loot within the experience is essentially a “free” bonus for the player's loyalty and engagement.


In my opinion, a free game with a loot system that requires payment will eventually fail, as the loot will need to have some inherent value then, such as augmenting the experience, which then means those that don’t pay will have less enjoyment. Loot as such should never “improve” the desired actions that you wish the players to take. It should not become a barrier to it. If your experience is built around the idea that it is only fun when the player buys certain loot items, then it is fundamentally flawed.


If you, however, have the former gamified experience, then one of the best ways to have a loot system it by connecting it to a long-term progression system. A progression system gives the players something to aim for and creates meaning and value for the items they gain, as they are part of the player's progression.


If the items do have an influence on their progression, and you have made it a randomized system, then also consider adding a mechanic in which players can exchange unwanted items for something else, like an in-game currency, that offers them another method to progress through your experience.


Your loot and progress system should reward your players for their engagement. You can strengthen both these systems with a strong long-term narrative, in which the players can immerse themselves. A narrative will also aid you ensuring that your goals align with those of your players. As the narrative can be a vehicle for these and make the player aware of what they can and want to achieve in your gamified experience.


In the end, the main takeaway is that a loot system should never ruin a player’s experience. It is there to service the player and to add another level of fun by playing into those 3 points of Curiosity, Collecting & Fulfilment. If you get those three, then you will have loyal and engaged players.



I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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