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I wonder what's inside?
In video games, a "loot box" is a container with randomized, possibly rare loot. They may be actual boxes within the game world which the Player Character picks up, but usually are an abstract component, instead of boxes in the actual game universe. They're often gotten from the game's menu system outside of gameplay (a process that can include Microtransactions), and their "contents" aren't limited to physical items but can include insubstantials like new classes or skins.

The first clear examples of this mechanic are the Chinese ZT Online (2007) and Canadian FIFA 09 (2008). In the Far East, it would soon come to dominate the mobile and browser gaming markets, where it's known as "gacha" after the toy capsule machines.

Loot boxes serve as a point of contention due to many allegedly free games which have hidden real and tangible ways of Bribing Your Way to Victory behind this randomized method of acquisition, with countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom investigating whether or not a lootbox-driven system should be regulated as gambling - something China, Belgium, Japan, and the Isle of Man already do.

Your Mileage May Vary on whether lootboxes are a detriment: While a lot of allegedly free games use them as a Paper-Thin Disguise to hide that they allow Bribing Your Way to Victory, some games allow them to be earned freely, some have the lootboxes only contain Cosmetic Awards, some allow the purchase of items contained inside them through other means, and some have the lootbox acquisition be parallel to just playing the game and not dropped along with your average random loot drops, and some utilize lootboxes as their only way of monetising a Free To Play model. It's the vast difference in business models surrounding lootboxes that has made the general public sceptical of them, considering that one lootbox system may be wildly different to another despite appearing to be the same on the surface. The vast difference also makes it a pain to trope them sometimes. In 2016 they also began to come under government scrutiny as possible violations of gambling laws.

The paid version of these is a sub-trope to Microtransactions, though the tropes are not mutual as some instances of loot boxes are not paid for. A sub-trope of Mystery Box. Mutually related to Random Loot.


Examples

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    Action 
  • Battlerite has multiple varieties of Chests that can be bought or earned by levelling up your profile and Champions. Their contents are purely cosmetic aside from one example:
    • Silver chests are bought with Battlecoins, the currency used to unlock new Champions.
    • Gold chests are bought with the premium currency, Gems, and contain at least one Epic quality item. you get two quests per week that award one Gold chest each.
    • Legendary chests contain at least one Legendary quality item. They can only be earned by completing certain objectives.
    • Event chests are only available for a limited time and contain event-exclusive items. They come in two versions: a basic version that replaces Silver chests, and a premium version that contains at least one non-duplicate item (so opening enough of these chests guarantees you will have all event items). Players who reach the Diamond league can sign an exclusive sponsor who will award past premium event chests.
    • Special chests are available when a new Champion is released, and guarantee that you will get a non-duplicate item for the new Champion.
    • The Champion chest unlocks one new playable Champion (the only non-cosmetic thing you can get from Chests). You can only get one from completing the tutorial.

    Card Games 
  • Kantai Collection has it in form of (Large) Ship Constructions. There, you issue an order to make a new ship girl, the results of which are random. The girls appropriately have "rarity grades" that signifies the chances of them being made. Constructing new ships simply requires the in-game resources as payment, but the building time tend to be long (especially for Large version).

    Fighting Games 
  • A gacha system exists in Get Amped; some of the gacha uses the in-game money, some others use real-life ones. The gacha can give you either multiple copies of weapons, enhancement cards, or powerful accessories, the latter of which being the higher grade prizes.
  • Street Fighter V Arcade Edition has a variation: There are select challenges that require spending in-game currency to acquire more currency, EXP, or a unique costume. However, they are not actually boxes; you earn your reward by defeating a unique opponent... one who happens to be very hard to defeat. And you only get limited tries before your hard-earned currency goes away and leaves you with nothing. Good luck!
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ allows you to purchase 'Capsules' which contain a number of Palette Swaps for the fighters, in-game avatars, and titles. Although these are not purchased with real currency, their contents are entirely cosmetic and have no bearing whatsoever on the gameplay itself. If you get a duplicate item, you get a Premium Z Coin in exchange; ten of those can be traded in for something you do not have.

    First Person Shooters 
  • Team Fortress 2 is the Trope Codifier of this, with the Mann Co. Supply Crates. Crates randomly drop for free but require keys purchased from the Mann Co. Store to open, or traded for with Refined Metal, or just lots of cosmetic items.
  • Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) was infamous for this; despite being a paid full game, the game still contained these, and among other things (such as having things from the first game locked behind paywalls), this got the game hit with serious Internet Backdraft, and EA's attempt to defend this on Reddit netted them the lowest rated post in the site's history. Even worse for the developers, the game would end up being investigated by Belgium, Australia, and parts of the UK and US for containing gambling elements, with a politician from the state of Hawaii even calling them a trap. The system was changed in early 2018 to kill the lootboxes, and instead use Microtransactions for cosmetics only.
  • Overwatch has loot boxes that are obtained in 3 ways; Earning enough XP for a new player level, purchased in bulk via in-game Microtransactions, or by playing the Arcade, which lets you earn a lootbox after every third win, stacking 3 times per week. Each one contains four hero-based cosmetic rewards, or varying amounts of gold coins to purchase said rewards with. Any duplicates will be converted to coins, albeit at a lower rate at what they actually cost. All event-specific items are tied to Event-Specific lootboxes, which requires opening those specific Loot Boxes to get at the stuff you want, or by obtaining enough coins to buy them outright for three times their normal cost note  Not surprisingly, many players have taken to not liking the event-specific skin costs being disproportionately high for what their normal cost is, and see it as way of Blizzard trying to make players buy the aforementioned bulk lootbox packs, in order to up the chance of getting something you want, despite lootboxes, by their very nature, being incredibly unreliable. Notably, It's also the first game to directly call this trope by the name of "loot boxes". Like with Battlefront II above, It was investigated by Belgium for whether its lootboxes constitutes gambling or not: And their final word is that they do.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive features these, which drop weapon skins, knife skins and...glove skins (one per crate). Third-party sites used to be able to manipulate the odds of dropping high-level skins and such, and it led to a rather large controversy when it was discovered that some of these third-party sites were a) involved in legitimate gambling incidents, and b) manipulating the odds to sell their site, but then making it literally impossible to get high-level drops by turning the high-level drops to 0%.
  • PAYDAY 2 had its Crimefest 2015 event, which was a major PR disaster for Overkill due to them implementing Safes and Drills as microtransactions, which contain weapon skins, in an event in which content was meant to be free to all players. It also didn't help that skins may sometimes have stat boosts on them. More galling is that a few years prior, the devs famously said that wouldn't add microtransactions ("Shame on you, if you thought otherwise!"). In fairness, Overkill have tried to make things right since then, by removing the drills needed to open the Safes, and making it so that safes added after Update #100 become free to open, requiring no drill to open, and they'll drop at the end of a heist once per week at random. The Crimefest name became so tarnished after 2015, that, when the annual event came around the following year, they dropped the it entirely, instead naming the event around one of the major features of that event (The Hoxtons Housewarming Party, an event to bring in the much-awaited safehouse), although the Fall 2017 event would later reuse the Crimefest name.

    Idle Games 
  • Downplayed with Zombidle: Chests contain three items (only one of which can be chosen per chest) of variable usefulness. While they're mostly obtained by defeating bosses and reset after every run, they can be crafted in exchange for white orbs (which are obtained at the end of every run), which can also be bought in exchange for diamonds (the only currency that can be purchased for real money, though there's plenty of ways to earn them in-game).
  • A non-paid example from Anti-Idle: The Game comes the various boxes/crates. These can be gained a number of ways, but usually you can buy them with your coins.

    MMORPGs 
  • Realm of the Mad God has the Mystery boxes, available in the nexus and can be bought using Realm Gold (or rarely fame during special events). Usually, Set-Tiered items are given away in these (which players can trade), but other items can be given away from them.
  • ZT Online, a Chinese MMORPG which entered public beta on 21 April 2006 with this as an inaugural feature, is the Ur-Example for this trope. In this game, boxes are obtained as plunder but each box requires a key that costs 1 yuan (one-sixth of an US dollar) to open. Under governmental pressure, its use of loot boxes ended on 26 June, 2009.
  • Elsword:
    • The "Ice Burner" from the Item Mall. Their contents range from a number of rare consumables, to a lot of crafting materials, and their "grand prize", a set of costume equipments that not only look cool but also enhances your characters further.
    • There are also a lot of other "cubes/boxes" in the game that contains varying kinds of loots, some less random than others, such as boxes that contains equipments from Secret Dungeons or boxes containing equipments from bosses from certain regions.
  • Runescape has the Treasure Hunter "minigame" which offers you some free chests with money, bonus experience, or other goods inside once per day, but the option to purchase more with real money. Added to the mix were legitimate Loot Crates, which only further muddied things up and drew the ire of several players as the Battlefront II controversy started to go down.
  • Pokémon GO features Eggs and Incubators. The former are randomly given from PokéStops (one per Stop, up to a maximum of nine) and come available in three different types. The latter are what are used to hatch Eggs, and can only be earned in large numbers by using real money. Once the Egg is being incubated, it does not hatch instantly like other examples of loot boxes. The player must walk during the incubation process to hatch the Egg, which can take from two to ten kilometers depending on the egg's color. Pokémon hatched from eggs have a far greater chance of having high IV's, while those hatched from 10km eggs having the potential to hatch into rarer Pokémon.
  • Star Trek Online has lockboxes, usually themed on the current Story Arc, which drop at random from destroyed mobs and are opened with keys purchased from the game's real-money store. They were introduced following the game's changeover from subscription-based to Free To Play. Each box contains at least four Lobi crystals (used in a pseudo-Black Market store on Drozana Station) and a random prize (the grand prize is always a starship).
  • The Elder Scrolls Online has Crown Crates, which are usually only purchaseable through the real-money-only "Crowns" currency, though are also given as a bonus when leveling up characters and occasionally a few are given as a daily login bonus during particular events. They contain 4 rewards (about a 15-20% of there being a 5th reward) consisting of consumables (food/potions, xp scrolls, and riding lessons - all of which have an in-game equivalent) and cosmetics (mounts, pets, costumes, furnishings, etc). If you get a collectible that you already own, or wish to exchange your consumables, you get "crown gems" that can be used to purchase individual items from the crate outright (with the price dependent upon rarity).

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Mega Man Battle Network: The Chip Trader machine works like a gacha, with a twist: you have to insert 3 (or 10 for the better version of the trader) Battle Chips into it, and then the trader will give you one random Battle Chip, usually of the (relatively) higher quality. The 10-Chip Trader predictably gives better chips than the 3-chip one. Then there's the Bug Frag Chip Trader, which requires you to insert 10 Bug Frags instead; they give even better chips than any normal Chip Trader, but Bug Frags are quite harder to farm than Battle Chips.

    Sports 
  • All of EA Sports' games feature this in some way in their "Ultimate Team" mechanic, which involves packs of "cards" and "contracts", where the cards feature players, and the contracts are the amount of games that you can play with them before they disappear. Card packs can be earned manually, but can also be purchased in bulk.
  • Rocket League features crates that can drop car skins, car bodies, wheel skins, goal explosions, etc. Their claim to fane, however, was that during the Hallowe'en and Christmas special seasons, they sold "Decryptors" that could only be purchased with in-game, non-buyable currency, and these decryptors would open any lootcrate (with the same odds as usual) and the inside object would be treated as a holiday item (non-tradeable to other players) but able to be traded in with other such items in exchange for a rarer one.

    Third Person Shooters 
  • Splatoon 2 has the rare non-paid example in the form of the bonuses you get rewarded with in Salmon Run, which are obtained every 100 points. They're color-coded, too; yellow gives coins, another color gives ability chunks, another two colors give tickets for Crusty Sean's food, pink gives random Grizzco equipment items (which are three-star equipment items by default). Occasionally, you get a super capsule with better stuff of the given color; the "superbonus" capsules are always super capsules of one specific type.

    Wide Open Sandboxes 
  • Minecraft parodied these with the locked chests in Beta 1.6, as part of an April Fools Joke. Randomly spawning in new portions of the world, attempting to open them would result in a pop-up to open a "Steve Co. Supply Crate", and lead you to a page to "buy" content from the in-game store. Attempting to do so resulted in a Jump Scare from a dinosaur, followed by an "April fools!" message in comic sans. Eventually, the prank was over, and the Locked Chests were set to decay like leaves, but the item data presisted, Dummied Out for nearly 3 years before their ID was replaced with stained glass, effectively killing them for good.

    Other Games 
  • The Parody/Deconstruction Game I Can't Believe It's Not Gambling lampoons the overuse of loot boxes in its contemporary titles by discarding all gameplay mechanics except loot boxes (you cannot spend real money on them, however), as a statement on what games would be like if loot boxes were really what players wanted.
  • PokeFarm Q has the boxes, which will contain random items like berries, treasure that can be sold, evolution items, or even rare items like Mega Evolution stones or Legendary Pokemon summon items. The chances of what items you get are explicitly stated in a pop-up menu. You can find regular boxes while doing Scour missions, but you can also buy boxes that contain other boxes with money. The Box Box which contains 21 regular boxes, the Box Box Box which contains 5 Box Boxes, and the Gragon's Stash which contains 5 Box Box Boxes. For ease of trade, you can also pack 21 regular boxes into a Box Box.
    • Flat-out defied with "Grab Bag" threads—essentially, threads members of the community would own in the trade forums where they would be able to gamble in-game items, Pokemon, or other sorts of things. Eventually, after the staff saw complaints about possible scamming, and ran a poll. Afterwards, Grab Bag threads were effectively banned, and paying to enter a raffle was also banned so nobody could loophole by calling them anything else.


What? Expecting a stinger? That's a rare drop from the Trope Co. Supply Crate; keep looking.

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