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80 years for a sleeveless jacket: PUBG's loot box rates disclosed

Meanwhile, rarest item in new premium crate could cost $1,562.50 to acquire

The team behind smash hit PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has revealed the likelihood of gaining certain items through its in-game loot boxes.

Such rates aren't something we typically cover here at GamesIndustry.biz, but given the game's overwhelming popularity, these are worth taking a closer look at - particularly as the use of loot boxes becomes more prominent in the market's biggest games.

For a start, the fact that Bluehole has publicly revealed these drop rates at all suggests a shift where developers are conscious of the cynicism surrounding such a monetisation model - not to mention the growing demand for transparency from marketplaces and platform holders.

Back in 2016, China mandated that all developers should declare the chances of winning each item contained in loot boxes, while Apple followed suit with the App Store just before Christmas.

In the release note for the next patch, the PUBG team details two new loot crates - the free Biker box and the premium Desperado box. Ars Technica reports the latter requires both virtual currency to unlock (Battle Points earned through achievements in gameplay, such as killls and wins) as well as a $2.50 'key'.

The most common items in the Biker box - a red long-sleeved t-shirt, and brown school shoes - only appear 15% of the time (or three out of every 20 crates). The rarest - sleeveless biker jackers and a checkered cloth mask - only appear in 0.01% of boxes, giving players a one in 10,000 chance of acquiring them.

Additionally, PUBG has implemented a limit of six crate purchases per week, with Ars Technica observing it would take 4,166 weeks - or roughly 80 years - to buy 10,000 crates gain that jacket.

It would perhaps be understandable if the purchase limit was to prevent cash-rich players unbalancing the game by unlocking rarer weapons, but as these items are all cosmetic, the decision to prevent players from opening more free crates is somewhat confusing.

While loot boxes have become more common in even full-price console games, such open declarations of the drop rates have not. To use the last quarter's biggest releases as an example, currently EA, Activision and Ubisoft do not disclose the likelihood of earning items from crates Star Wars Battlefront II, Call of Duty WW2 and Assassin's Creed Origins respectively.

Interestingly, Activision subsidiary Blizzard has been known to reveal drop rates, with 7.4% of all Overwatch loot boxes (37 out of every 500) contain a rare Legendary item, while Hearthstone gives players a Legendary item from one in every 20 pack - and golden legendaries from one in every 230 packs. Considerably less than the one in 10,000 rate for PUBG's jacket.

You might think the paid Desperado crates would offer more favourable rates, but the most common items only appear in 8% (two out of 25) of boxes. That said, the rarest are slightly more favourable than in the Biker boxes at 0.16% (one in 625 crates) - although at $2.50 and with the six-crate limit, players are still looking at five years and $1,562.50 before they get that leopard cloth mask.

Finally, it's worth noting that there's only a 40% chance of players unlocking either a new Desperado or Biker crate - otherwise they unlock one of the established boxes already available in the game.

The argument, of course, is that these items are all cosmetic, in no way essential to enjoying the game, and (in the case of the Biker crates) free to purchase and therefore not racking up the type of credit card bills that see parents demanding refunds.

But is it worth developers taking another look at their drop rates? It's not unreasonable to create a content system where not everyone will collect every item - something that would no doubt prompt some players to move on to a rival title, having unlocked everything the title has to offer.

Even so, when broken down like this PUBG's figures seem a little unnecessary for the sake of giving players another option to customise their avatar. Developers want their audience to stick around for years, true, but not 80 years. (Yes, that's an extreme figure only applying to those desperate for a specific jacket, but still feels like it could be shorter without impacting the game's popularity)

More importantly, as governments become increasingly aware of how video games are monetised and talk of regulation begins to surface, publishers need to be conscious about how fair their business models seem. With the ongoing debate about whether loot boxes constitute as gambling, a one in 625 chance at a single item probably doesn't work in the industry's favour.

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Latest comments (5)

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 6 days ago
I will never understand why people care about cosmetics in the slightest. But they obviously do. Heck, so much Skyrim and Mass Effect misery could have been saved by locking down those character faces ;)
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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive6 days ago
To be honest, there's nothing surprising about those numbers. It'll be interesting to compare when everyone else finally releases their finely tuned balancing numbers.

The intention is not to force players to collect every item available but to create increased perceived rarity for the truly scarce ones. Of course a certain number of players will also try to collect everything, but what makes this impossible here is the daily limit. 80 years is just a theoretical number anyway: you could still get that special scarf on the first try (or more likely, never).
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Andrew Whitehead Content & Community Manager, Mobcrush6 days ago
@Jeff Kleist: You don't think cosmetics matter? Do you think Cuphead would be as appealing if it wasn't for its cosmetic appeal on top of its gameplay? What about Halo's sci-fi look, or Overwatch's awesome characters? PUBG (and a ton of other games) would be boring if every character was the same stock character model. It's the same reason we all don't wear the same gray jumpsuits in real life - we ALL care about cosmetic appeal.
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Show all comments (5)
Andrew Whitehead Content & Community Manager, Mobcrush6 days ago
@Jeff Kleist: You don't think cosmetics matter? Do you think Cuphead would be as appealing if it wasn't for its cosmetic appeal on top of its gameplay? What about Halo's sci-fi look, or Overwatch's awesome characters? PUBG (and a ton of other games) would be boring if every character was the same stock character model. It's the same reason we all don't wear the same gray jumpsuits in real life - we ALL care about cosmetic appeal.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 days ago
[X/(X+1)]^x = 0.368 (for all X that aren't super small)

meaning that after 80 years a third of the players who stuck around for that long will still not have had the drop.

Even if every publisher releases their numbers, the fiendish details of how RNG the RNG system really is has more of an impact. You can roll a six sided die six times and let nature run its course, or you can make sure that the number six turns up after no more than six rolls (or too often within the first X rolls for that matter). Why burn 36% of your audience with how reality works?

As for only cosmetic. It only works for publishers and generates a group of people who actively defend microtransactions, although they themselves do not interact with them. It is a bit like saying, why should I care about violence against women when I am a man? Taking the first chance to distance yourself from the victims by assigning yourself another group identity and avoid the topic is not good enough. Compassion for the victims is the better option.
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