Spin to Win? The Rise of Loot Boxes and Other Gambling Mechanics in Gaming

For those unfamiliar with the term, a loot box is simply a virtual box. It is a type of reward or motivation awarded to gamers whenever they attain a certain level, collect enough points, or perform specified tasks. A loot box contains various items that may be cosmetic (change the appearance of in-game elements) or improve the character’s performance.

This write-up delves into the rise of loot boxes and other gambling mechanics in gaming to help you understand why loot boxes have proven so popular as a gambling mechanic. Read on!

Loot Box Predecessors

Many gaming experts believe lot boxes are similar to slot games such as these: Big Bass Bonanza, Starburst, and Eye of the Horus because these slot titles are games of chance. For this reason, many gamers equate loot boxes to gambling because they have to spend lots of money buying them, hoping to hit the jackpot.

While the loot box is a relatively new introduction to the gaming world, the idea has existed for decades. Think about decorated collectible cards that came with cigarette packs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Do you remember the whole craze about collecting baseball cards and selling them to collectors in the hope of acquiring limited edition cards in the 90s? Some individuals even have a Pokemon card lying somewhere in your garage or basement!

Many gaming enthusiasts will tell you that a physical replica that inspired the current loot boxes is the gachapon machine popularized in Japan in the early 2000s.

It was a toy machine where the customer put in some coins and then cranked the machine to earn a random toy. Modern games still feature a randomness similar to the gachapon toy vending machine.

Early Loot Boxes

The first recorded appearance of a loot box in a game was in a Japanese multiplayer game similar to MapleStory, released in mid-2004. The item, dubbed Gachapon Ticket, would cost a hundred Japanese yen. Players would achieve random select game items similar to the random toy produced by the physical gachapon toy vending machine.

Second Generation

The loot box would then appear in a free game, Zhengtu, released by the Zhengtu Network in 2007. This proved a brilliant idea that promoted Zhengtu’s Network net worth to millions of dollars. This immense profitability inspired the release of many “free” games with microtransactions or “in-app purchases.”

The trend would then spread like wildfire, taking the Asian gaming market by storm for the next three years.

The 2010s

The Westerners arrived on the scene several years later. They would later on debut with FIFA 09, a soccer game featuring a reward system similar to the loot box. The video game allowed the enthusiasts to create their team of professional players using collected in-game currency. Players could acquire virtual currency through actual currency purchases.

Team Fortress 2 followed suit in the same year, releasing their own version of the virtual treasure trove. However, their version was slightly different. The loot boxes were free but locked; therefore, players had to purchase keys. The justification was the developers wanted to produce a networking effect that would rake in more players.

The trend would pick up pace, appearing in many MMOs and MOBAs like Star Trek Online and Rings Online in the subsequent years.

More Recently…

Loot box as a monetization technique for free-to-play games was so successful that Blizzard reported a combined revenue of over one billion dollars in 2017. But the good times would not last because controversy loomed. Why? Because Overwatch, a developer went too far. Their version, which allowed players to purchase skins instead of the whole boxes using real money, resembled gambling.

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 would create an uproar for unsuccessfully attempting to manipulate their revenue statistics. By the time Battlefront 2 was released, the gaming community had had enough. The subsequent uproar led to bans in some countries.

What Led to the Rise of Loot Boxes?

The initial idea was to motivate gamers to keep on playing and move up the ladder, spending more time on the game.

The second idea was monetization. Developers needed cash to pay the coders and graphic designers and earn some revenue. A supposedly free game would earn more revenue from gamers who cannot afford full-cost titles. Furthermore, it will prevent other illegal activities like piracy and copyright infringement.


Gambling mechanics, including loot boxes, may seem like a recent invention, but the idea has always existed. However, the gachapon toy vending machine is the most evident inspiration behind loot boxes in mobile and video games.


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