On blind buys and how we've managed to get people playing slot machines without anyone being the wiser.
Blind buys are manipulative transactions plagued by obscurity and a reliance on cheap thrills. I don't like them but I enjoy them and that is precisely the problem.
What Are Blind Buys?
A blind buy is a transaction in which at least one of the parties doesn't have a clear idea of the nature or value of what they're getting.
Sometimes, blind buys occur when a purchase is made on a whim. Other times they exist as a format that supports a business model.
Random content packs are an example of the latter. A classic sight on collectible card games, the use of random content packs has been adapted to videogames through the use of micro transactions.
Nowadays, it's easy to get your randomized fix. You can buy random character skins on League of Legends and DOTA 2, fashion galore in Team Fortress 2 and a wealth of pets, mounts and consumables in your average MMO game.
Problematic By Design
I don't like blind buys and I certainly don't like random content packs. It's a format designed to create pleasurable feelings based on the form of the exchange rather than to provide value through the goods changing hands.
My principal concern is that the mechanics of the transaction as well as the randomization are obscured.
While it's easy enough to grasp the idea of randomization, it's not as simple to figure out the chances of obtaining an item you actually want. This makes it diffcult to figure out if the money spent is worth it.
If you want to figure out whether the value to cost ratio of a random content pack makes sense to you, there are two questions you need ask:
- For how many of the results of the randomization is the price I'm asked to pay worth it for me?
- What is the relationship between results that are worth it for meand results that aren't?
The information required is either obscured or non-existant. Collectors, those most versed in this random numbers game, have been drafting their own figures for ages now.
My secondary concern is that random content packs are exciting by design.
Well designed random content packs give you the thrills of pleasant surprises. We've spent time and money to make you walk that exciting measure between predictability and absolute chaos and find the minimum rate of high value stuff vs. low value fluff that will keep you buying.
Purchase Completely Optional?
Let's stop the conspiracy bandwagon for a moment.
Is pleasure not valuable? Are random content packs so terrible because some – or even most – of their value is derived from their form?
Of course not. These packs are a perfectly reasonable purchase as long as you're making an informed decision. However, obscurity of design ill fits clarity of thought and the pleasure of opening a pack is all too present. On this terms a thoughtful analysis of the value of what you're buying usually seems but a flight of fancy.
All of the business models that rely on random content packs I've seen so far have been as honest and straightforward as slot machines. Which is to say, not at all.
These money makers are built on artificial scarcity, running a machine of thrills to give everyone willing to pay the fee a fleeting hope of hitting the jackpot. This is what they're selling, regardless of what they're telling.
The Bottom Line
Even if we disregard folks who are particularly suceptible to spending excessive amounts on these shady deals, random content packs are still designed to run a con on our lizard brains.
Whether they succeed or not, I can't support their current format on the premise some – or most – of us can resist their mermaid song.