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Making Sense of Randomness in Games

Don’t be afraid of randomness  

There is a balance of skill and chance in most mobile games and in fact, how much you enjoy a game is often based on the interaction between skill, randomness and a bit of luck.

And this extends well beyond mobile games. Almost every game, board games, those with dice or a deck of cards have a random element -it's all part of the fun.

A well-known example of randomness in mobile games is Mario Kart Tour, the mobile version of Nintendo’s hugely popular Mario Kart franchise. Even though it is a racing game, chance has an important part to play, owing to the Blue Shells that might crash into your kart at any moment. Just when you think you’re ahead, a blue shell can strike and level out the race.

This means beginners can compete with professionals in a game experience that brings enjoyment to all. 

What are loot boxes? 

Loot boxes are a type of virtual treasure chest, which contain a selection of random virtual items of varying importance and rarity, that are only revealed once the chest is opened. The types of random items in the chest can be anything from cosmetic items like additional characters, outfits, tools, and weapons, to prizes allowing players to unlock extra levels, gain new skills or receive performance upgrades.

It’s important to remember that any prizes or items obtained from a loot box or in-game mechanic has no value in the real world. It stays within the game experience.

Loot boxes can be earned through gameplay or paid for with real or virtual money.

Some people say loot boxes were inspired by Japanese ‘gatcha’ games where you purchase cards with in-game currency but cannot choose which card you receive. Both have the element of surprise where you don’t know what you will get before opening.

Importantly, there are now tools to help you, the player, better understand how loot boxes work and how you can manage your use of them.  

What are drop rates?

Drop rates refer to the probability of winning different types of virtual in-game items contained in the chest. Since the end of 2020, a host of big developers now publish these drop rates to help consumers make informed choices about their purchases1. And the largest mobile games platforms, Apple and Google, require games developers to disclose drop rates.

Below is an example showing the drop rates of receiving certain items in Blizzard’s loot boxes:

Parental controls 

Taking a step back, if players or parents are worried about spending money on any type of in-game purchase, including loot boxes, there are ways to limit or prevent in-game spending with the use of parental controls. Parental controls can be enabled in most device settings or through third-party apps. While parental control tools vary from app store to app store, popular parental control tools used to manage in-app purchases involve: 

  • Setting up a password or PIN to make an in-game purchase

  • Adding an additional authentication step before each in-game purchase is made.  

  • It is also possible in most app stores to turn off in-game purchases altogether.  

For more information on parental control tools, and guidance on how best to implement them, please see the article: A Deep Dive into Parental Controls

Top Tips

  • Make sure you understand the randomness of some games and that way you will have a better game experience

  • Read reviews and labels on any game so you know what to expect once you start playing

  • Parental controls work well to monitor games that have in-game mechanics like loot boxes 

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