For anyone keeping up with gaming and esports from the outside, there have been a lot of similar terms recently that frequently pop up in discussions of both players and industry experts. To a casual viewer, finding where the line is between loot boxes, season passes, gachas and actual gambling is tough.
So what exactly separates each category from the other and what are the biggest distinctions to look for?
What defines gambling?
Despite the elements of random chance that it shares with both loot boxes and gacha games, gambling is probably the easiest of the three to distinguish. That’s because at casinos and casino sites, the slots and games all work on a cash-in, cash-out system. If a player goes to a casino like Paddy Power, they’re not playing for prizes, they’re playing slot games for real cash and any winnings they get can be withdrawn as money only.
With the exception of specific rewards from promotional events and competitions, cash prizes are the only kind of prize a player can expect. There is also the fact that on a single spin, scoring a win is down to chance with gambling.
Loot boxes and gacha games
These two come under the same category as, for all intents and purposes, they both work the same way. A player can purchase a pack that contains a randomly selected item or items from a set list, with some items having a much lower chance of appearing than others. There’s never a cash prize, and the player always gets something, even if it’s not always what they want.
The main difference between the two often comes down to the region. Gacha titles are named after the Japanese collectable item dispensers. As such, they feature more in Asian games and usually give one item per ‘ticket’. Loot boxes are more common in Western titles and may give three or four items per box, although both types can be found in either region.
So, what are season passes?
Season passes are the latest trend among developers, and are distinguished by an almost complete lack of random chance. Aside from a few exceptions that manage to work loot boxes into the system, all items contained in a season pass are shown up front so the player always knows exactly what they’re getting.
The majority of leading multiplayer games now feature a season pass based on gameplay progression, usually featuring two ‘tiers’ of passes where one is paid for and contains more and better items. While they have plenty of pros and cons from both the developer and the player sides, they are an enduring alternative to loot boxes in a lot of places as players can accurately gauge their value before buying.
Of course, these are very clear-cut definitions for the most part, however, many developers often use a combination of these features, with the exception of gambling. There are games out there, especially in the mobile category, that can implement gachas, loot boxes and season passes all at once.