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Arrr you a Pirate? Towards the Gamification Element "Lootbox"

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Gamification, using game-like elements in a non-game context, stands a means to trigger an individual's innate disposition to game and play, leading to enhanced engagement, enjoyment, and motivation. Gamification elements can take many forms. Amongst the most prominent and often applied gamification elements are progress bars, badges, and leaderboards. Each of these elements can be found in games, for instance, computer games. One recent development in online computer games is the so-called "lootbox." Lootboxes can be described as a mechanism that rewards gamers with a random object when a specific objective is met. Lootboxes have yet to be adapted as a gamification element. It remains unclear how users react to lootboxes, both in terms of psychological and behavioral outcomes. Against this background, this study investigates the effect of lootboxes on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, as well as the performance (quantity of completed tasks) via an online experiment with 203 participants. The results of our research indicate that lootboxes can be an effective way of gamifying non-gaming contexts, increasing extrinsic motivation and performance, while preserving intrinsic motivation.
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Arrr you a Pirate? Lootboxes as Gamification Elements
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Chair of Information Management
Prof. Dr. Lutz M. Kolbe
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 5
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www.uni-goettingen.de/im
Smart Mobility Research Group (SMRG)
Dr. Alfred Benedikt Brendel
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Lichtenberg, S.; Brendel, B. (2020): Arrr you a Pirate? Towards the Gamification Element
“Lootbox”, Proceedings of American Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS)
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Arrr you a Pirate? Towards the
Gamification Element “Lootbox”
Completed Research
Sascha Lichtenberg
University of Goettingen
Sascha.Lichtenberg@uni-goettingen.de
Alfred Benedikt Brendel
University of Goettingen
abrende1@uni-goettingen.de
Abstract
Gamification, using game-like elements in a non-game context, stands a means to trigger an individual's
innate disposition to game and play, leading to enhanced engagement, enjoyment, and motivation.
Gamification elements can take many forms. Amongst the most prominent and often applied
gamification elements are progress bars, badges, and leaderboards. Each of these elements can be found
in games, for instance, computer games. One recent development in online computer games is the so-
called "lootbox." Lootboxes can be described as a mechanism that rewards gamers with a random object
when a specific objective is met. Lootboxes have yet to be adapted as a gamification element. It remains
unclear how users react to lootboxes, both in terms of psychological and behavioral outcomes. Against
this background, this study investigates the effect of lootboxes on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, as
well as the performance (quantity of completed tasks) via an online experiment with 203 participants.
The results of our research indicate that lootboxes can be an effective way of gamifying non-gaming
contexts, increasing extrinsic motivation, and the performance while preserving intrinsic motivation.
Keywords
Lootbox, Rewards, Gamification, Motivation.
Introduction
The term gamification describes using game-like elements in a non-game context (Hamari et al. 2014).
Gamification has received increased attention in practice as well as in academic research as a means to
enhance an individual’s experience, engagement, or motivation (Hamari et al. 2014; Koivisto and
Hamari 2019; Liu et al. 2017). Through the application of game-like elements, gamification leads to the
perception of tasks as games, triggering an innate disposition in humans to game and play
(Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1975). This effect has been shown in various contexts, from
education (Majuri et al. 2018), healthcare (Alahäivälä and Oinas-Kukkonen 2016), to work contexts
(Warmelink et al. 2018). However, finding and applying the right gamification elements remains
challenging (Ebermann et al. 2017), leading to often mixed responses by individuals and the subsequent
results (Koivisto and Hamari 2019). To explain and predict these mixed results, an ever-increasing body
of research has addressed the effects of gamification and psychological and behavioral outcomes in
various contexts (Koivisto and Hamari 2019).
Gamification elements can take many different forms. Amongst the most prominent and often applied
gamification elements are (Koivisto and Hamari 2019): progress bars, (Huotari and Hamari 2012)
badges (Hamari 2013), and leaderboards (Bunchball 2010; Christy and Fox 2014). Each of these
elements can be found in games, for instance, computer games (Koivisto and Hamari 2019). One recent
development in online computer games is so called “lootboxes” (Wagenaar 2016). Lootboxes can be
described as a mechanism that rewards gamers with a random object in case a specific objective has
been met (Nielsen 2019).
To best of our knowledge, lootboxes as a new mechanism has yet to find its way into non-game contexts.
It remains unclear how users react to lootboxes, both in terms of psychological and behavioral outcomes.
From a theoretical perspective, the provision of external rewards can be expected to trigger external
motivation (Hamari 2013), leading to users engaging more with the task at hand (Lichtenberg et al.
2020). Regarding the behavioral outcome, recent research has shown that the gamification elements of
badges can lead to crowdworkers completing more tasks than they are being paid for (Lichtenberg et al.
2020). However, the effects of lootboxes, which rewards users randomly from a pool of potential rewards
(Nielsen 2019), have yet to be investigated. Thus, in this study, we aim to answer the following research
question:
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RQ: What is the influence of the gamification element “lootbox” on a user’s motivation and task
performance?
To answer this question, we conducted an online experiment with 203 participants. In the experiment,
users are requested to perform five slider tasks (Lezzi et al. 2015) but are allowed to perform up to 10
more tasks. Half of the participants are given lootboxes for a certain number of completed tasks (for
instance, after four tasks); the other half received no lootboxes for their performed tasks. Furthermore,
we surveyed the participants regarding their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, to understand the effect
lootboxes have not only on an individual’s behavior (e.g., number of performed tasks) but also on their
psychological state. Thereby, we respond to the calls various gamification scholars (e.g., (Koivisto and
Hamari 2019; Morschheuser et al. 2017; Seaborn and Fels 2015; Warmelink et al. 2018)) for more
experimental studies to isolate the effects of specific gamification elements.
Theoretical Background
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
To substantiate our understanding of the potential effects of the gamification of lootboxes, we adopt the
perspective of the self-determination theory (SDT) and assume that to explain and predict human
behavior, the underlying motivational dispositions have to be understood (Deci and Ryan 1985; Ryan
and Deci 2000). SDT offers a framework for analyzing different forms of motivations that underlie
human behavior (Deci and Ryan 2000). The SDT assumes a continuum, ranging from intrinsic
motivation and extrinsic motivation to amotivation (Ryan and Deci 2000). However, an individual’s
behavior cannot be distinctly positioned on this continuum because multiple causes can stimulate
motivation at the same time (Deci and Ryan, 2000). Overall, the suggested continuum of the SDT has
received empirical support in various contexts, including education (Niemiec and Ryan 2009),
healthcare (Chatzisarantis and Hagger 2009; Hagger and Chatzisarantis 2008; Ng et al. 2012), and
organizational research (Gagné and Deci 2005)
Regarding the interaction of intrinsic/autonomous and extrinsic motivation, the motivation crowding
theory (Frey and Jegen 2001) suggests that a motivation crowding effect can be observed and
conceptualized either as crowding-in or -out (Frey and Jegen 2001; Liu et al. 2011). The crowding-out
effect suggests that if individuals perceive that they are controlled by external interference, this will lead
to reduced self-esteem and self-determination, in turn hindering and lowering intrinsic motivation (Frey
and Jegen 2001; Wu 2019). On the contrary, the crowding-in effect refers to individuals feeling
supported by external interferences, thus strengthening their self-esteem and self-determination, likely
increasing their intrinsic motivation as well (Cui et al. 2014; Wu 2019). Both effects can be attributed to
individuals’ need for autonomy, which is essential for intrinsic/autonomous motivation (Deci and Ryan
2000).
Gamification
Gamification describes the application of game mechanisms and principles in a non-gaming
environment (Hamari et al. 2014). Generally, humans enjoy participating in games when the activity is
perceived as purposeful, engaging, and fun (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1975). Within IS
research, this notion is reflected in gamified IS (Liu et al. 2017), which applies game-like elements to
increase motivation and affect user behavior (Koivisto and Hamari 2019). Following the SDT, the
primary self-purposeful nature of games can be conceptualized as an intrinsically regulated behavior,
having an internal locus of causality (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1975; Huotari and Hamari
2012; Ryan and Deci 2000). A high internal locus of causality describes an individual’s perception of
being sufficiently competent, related, and self-directed (i.e., autonomous) in the context of a challenge
or task, which triggers autonomous motivation (Ryan and Deci 2000). Henceforth, some gamification
elements affect extrinsic motivation by offering the individual either rewards for a specific behavior (e.g.,
badges) or by offering the opportunity to get positive acknowledgment by peers (e.g., via public
leaderboard) (Lichtenberg et al. 2020). Thus, gamification can increase an individual’s intrinsic as well
as extrinsic motivation.
Lootboxes
Generally speaking, a lootbox is a digital container that contains random rewards within a system (e.g.,
games see Figure 1 for an example), which players can use to progress faster in the game or change the
appearance of their character (Drummond and Sauer 2018). The rewards from opening a lootbox are
usually random, but the user might know the latent content. Lootboxes can furthermore differ in rarity
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(i.e., frequency of occurrence) and the opening animation (e.g., golden border). The same applies to the
content of the lootboxes, and it can be different rarities and animations to display the content (Koeder
et al. 2018).
Thus, lootboxes can be compared to the gamification elements that also offer rewards (Koivisto and
Hamari 2019). For instance, badges offer the user the opportunity to earn specific rewards for achieving
specific goals (Hamari 2013). However, unlike lootboxes, the user is always informed about the
progression of rewards (e.g., for which behavior or achievement which reward will be obtained). In the
context of lootboxes, the user is not informed which rewards will be granted for specific behavior or
achievements, respectively. Thus, lootboxes can be expected to lead to distinctively different outcomes
compared to other gamification elements. For instance, randomness can trigger the “Gambler’s Fallacy,”
which is a cognitive bias of “the expectation that the probability of winning increases with the length of
an ongoing run of losses” (Wagenaar 2016). This means that some individuals might expect the content
of a lootbox to change in their favor after a high number of tries that missed the desired outcome.
Figure 1. Lootbox from the Computer Game “Overwatch”
Research Model and Hypotheses
For this study, we follow the research model displayed in Figure 2. Our research model is based on the
three-step conceptualization of gamification: elements, psychological outcomes, and behavioral
outcomes (Koivisto and Hamari 2019). Within this framework, a gamification element is expected to
induce psychological and behavioral outcomes. Regarding psychological outcomes, gamification
research has repentantly attested gamification elements to influence an individual’s motivation, which
is in line with the SDT (Ryan and Deci 2000). For the behavioral outcome, we investigate the impact of
lootboxes on performance (quantity of completed tasks). The hypotheses derived within this model are
explained in the following sections.
Extrinsic Motivation
Following the SDT, extrinsic motivation is triggered by external factors, such as rewards or punishment
(Ryan and Deci 2000). For instance, in gamification research, badges are often associated with
increasing extrinsic motivation (Hamari 2013; Hamari and Koivisto 2015). The study of Davis and Singh
(2015) revealed that badges could have a positive impact on learning motivation. Similarly, Hamari
(2013) investigated the influence of badges on extrinsic motivation and concluded that users who
received badges as a reward were more likely to use the service (i.e., list goods, comment, and complete
transactions). In this context, offering the content of a lootbox as a reward can be expected to trigger
external motivation. Therefore, the following hypotheses can be derived:
H1: The gamification element “lootbox” leads to a higher level of extrinsic motivation in individuals.
Intrinsic Motivation
The work of Deci (1971) implies that rewards have a negative impact on the intrinsic motivation. This is
in line with the motivation crowding theory (Frey and Jegen 2001), which implicates that gamification
elements that offer rewards or award achievements for specific behavior reduces the individual
perception of autonomy and, therefore, also negatively impacts the intrinsic motivation. In the context
of the number of tasks performed, Lichtenberg et al. (2020) reported that badges have no significant
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influence on intrinsic motivation. In sum, the effect of reward- and achievement-based gamification
elements can be expected to not be positive on intrinsic motivation. Thus, we formulate the following
hypothesis:
H2: The gamification element “lootbox” leads to a lower level of intrinsic motivation in individuals.
Performance
Gamification is frequently used to achieve a particular change in behavior (Hamari and Koivisto 2015).
In computer games, lootboxes can either be bought (outside of the scope of gamification) or rewarded
for specific behavior - commonly the completion of a certain level or playing a specific number of rounds
(Koivisto and Hamari 2019). To transfer this property from lootboxes in computer games to lootboxes
in the gamification context: a lootbox should be awarded for the completion of a task, similar to
crowdworking (Lichtenberg et al. 2020). Awarding a lootbox should, therefore, increase the
performance (measured as quantity of completed tasks) (Podsakoff et al. 1997) of an individual . Thus,
the following hypothesis is formulated:
H3: The gamification element “lootbox” leads to an increased quantity of completed tasks.
Figure 2. Research Model and Hypotheses
Research Design
To test our hypotheses, we conducted an online experiment with two conditions for a between-subjects
design, avoiding carryover effects (Boudreau et al. 2001). We collected data via personal networks (e.g.,
family and friends, social media) from the 8th of February 2020 to the 21st of February 2020, leading to
a total of 206 participants. The participants were not compensated for their participation. Overall, the
sample is comprised of 64,53% of females. The age of the participants ranges from 19 to 61 (mean 27,58
and SD 7,34), and all participants are currently residing in Germany. After the experiment, each
participant had the option to enter a raffle for five 10€ vouchers.
Data Collection Procedure and Treatment Configurations
The participants received a briefing document, in which we explained the context (Lezzi et al. 2015) and
the structure of the experiment (completing five slider tasks with a subsequent survey) and precisely
described the tasks. Every participant was assigned to one of the experimental conditions beforehand.
However, all participants received the same document to make sure that they have the same information
for the experiment (Dennis and Valacich 2001). Additionally, for the participants who will potentially
receive a reward, we explained that they might receive a random reward after a random quantity of tasks
completed. Afterward, the participants (based on the random group assignment before) were forwarded
to one of the two treatments (no gamification and lootbox).
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Note, screens are translated from German
Figure 3. Flow of the Experiment (Position the Sliders, get the Lootbox, Proceed to Next
Task)
After the experiment was explained, three comprehension questions were asked, all of which had to be
answered correctly in order to continue the experiment. If the participants answered correctly, the first
task was displayed. For the task, the participants were presented five sliders, which were set to zero. In
order to complete the task, all sliders had to be pulled into the middle position (50), only then the next
task was reached. In total, 15 tasks could be completed, but the participants were only requested to
complete five. After performing five tasks, the option to proceed to the survey was given.
After task four, the participants in the lootbox treatment received the first lootbox. Furthermore,
lootboxes were given after completing rounds seven, ten, and fourteen, as the users were informed
beforehand. The lootbox is displayed in the middle of the screen as a treasure chest, and the rest of the
page is darkened. Only by clicking on the lootbox is its content revealed. After viewing the content,
participants can continue with the next task. Each of the four lootboxes contains a different reward. The
rewards were identical between participants to ensure comparability (e.g., all participants got the same
reward from the first lootbox and so on). We selected pictures of landmarks as rewards for the lootboxes
because we expect them to be neutral regarding personal preferences for all participants (see Figure 3).
Measures
After the tasks, the participants were forwarded to an online survey that measured two constructs by
asking a variety of items. All items were measured on a 7-point Likert scale. For our survey design, we
adapted measurement instruments established in previous studies, namely, extrinsic motivation
(Amabile et al. 1994) and intrinsic motivation (Teo et al. 1999).
We conducted a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to check the factor loadings of the items for each
construct. We only considered items with a factor loading above the threshold of .60. We further
evaluated the constructs by means of Cronbach’s alpha (α) and the composite reliability (CR) that both
require a value larger than .80, and the average variance extracted (AVE) that requires a value larger
than .50 (Urbach and Ahlemann 2010).
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Constructs and items Loadings Source
Extrinsic Motivation (α = .801, CR = .799, AVE = .446)
I have been strongly motivated by the rewards I have received to
complete more tasks.
During the experiment I often thought about the reward I could get.
I was very aware of the rewards I could earn for myself.
I was less concerned with the task I was carrying out than with being
rewarded for it.
During the experiment I had the feeling that I get something for what I
do.
.668
.674
.601
.669
.746
(Amabile et al. 1994)
Intrinsic Motivation (α = .931, CR = .934, AVE = .737)
I liked the task.
I enjoyed doing the task.
I found the task entertaining.
I enjoyed the task.
.878
.849
.891
.852
(Teo et al. 1999)
Note, all items were translated to German for the survey.
Table 1. Measurement of Latent Variables
Table 2 summarizes the constructs with its corresponding items and factor loadings of the CFA. The
dependent variable performance is not depicted in the table, as it was measured via counting the
quantity of completed tasks.
Results
We analyzed the gathered data from the experiment and follow-up survey by means of descriptive
statistics and used a t-test to test our three hypotheses concerning the impact of the element of lootbox
on extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, and performance. Table 2 summarizes the results of our
analyses, which were carried out using R.
As a first step, we checked the two prerequisites of variance homogeneity and normal distribution
assumption. We then tested for a significant difference between the control (without lootboxes) and
treatment conditions (with lootboxes), addressing our previously formulated hypotheses (see Table 3).
Concerning extrinsic motivation, we found a significant difference between the control and treatment
groups. This leads to the conclusion that the use of a lootbox as a gamification element leads to increased
extrinsic motivation, supporting our first hypothesis. As for intrinsic motivation, our results show that
there is no significant difference between the two groups; thus, we could not support our second
hypothesis. Lastly, the results for performance were also found to be significant. The average quantity
of completed tasks was increased by 1,15 for the participants who received a lootbox, which supports our
last hypothesis.
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Condition
t-value
(df = 201) p-value
No
Gamification
(n = 98)
Lootbox
(n = 105)
Extrinsic
Motivation
Mean
SD
SE
2.80
1.34
.14
3.18
1.38
.14
2.001 .046*
Intrinsic
Motivation
Mean
SD
SE
2.83
1.37
.14
3.02
1.51
.15
.912 .358 n.s.
Performance
Mean
SD
SE
7.81
3.54
.36
8.95
3.99
.40
2.159 .032*
SD = Standard deviation, SE = Standard error, Significance levels: *p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01, ***p≤ .001
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and t-test Results
Hypothesis
Result
Extrinsic
Motivation
H1: The gamification element “lootbox” leads to a higher level of extrinsic
motivation in individuals.
Supported
Intrinsic
Motivation
H2: The gamification element “lootbox” leads to a lower level of intrinsic
motivation in individuals.
Not
Supported
Performance
H3: The gamification element “lootbox” leads to an increased quantity of
completed tasks.
Supported
Table 3. Result for Hypotheses
Discussion
In our experiment, we examined the effect of the gamification element of lootbox on the psychological
outcome and behavioral outcome. Specifically, we analyzed the effect on intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation as well as the quantity of completed tasks. Our results indicate that the application of
lootboxes leads to an increase in extrinsic motivation and quantity of completed tasks, while not
reducing the intrinsic motivation of an individual. Thus, applying lootboxes following a similar design
as presented in this study yields the opportunity to increase the overall motivation, while not interfering
with an individual’s intrinsic motivation, as suggested be the motivation crowding theory (Frey and
Jegen 2001).
Our research contributes to theory by two means. Firstly, to the best of our knowledge, lootboxes had
yet to be applied in a non-gaming context, making this study one of the first to provide evidence on the
effects of it. Secondly, our results indicate that the offering of lootboxes for performed tasks does not
reduce the intrinsic motivation of individuals. Thus, the autonomy of individuals, the main driver of
intrinsic motivation (Frey and Jegen 2001), appears to stay intact.
Regarding the implications for practice, our results indicate that lootboxes are an effective measure to
increase extrinsic motivation while preserving intrinsic motivation in contexts where several tasks have
to be completed. Such a context could be, for instance, crowdworking. Building upon the results of
(Lichtenberg et al. 2020) in which they provide evidence for the effectiveness of gamification on the
motivation and quantity of completed tasks in crowdworking, we would like to position our results as a
valuable implication for crowdworking platforms.
Limitations and Future Research
In the following, we will discuss the primary limitation of our study. Firstly, the design of our online
experiments constitutes a major limitation. Most prominently, the participants were obtained via social
media and family and friends and had to speak German to participate. Against this background, future
research should investigate the effect of lootboxes for a different set of participants (e.g., students from
a different country). Secondly, the experiment was not conducted under real-world conditions, meaning
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that completing the tasks had no real-life consequences for the users, unlike, for instance, a worker on a
crowdworking platform, which goal it is to make money (Lichtenberg et al. 2020). Similarly, we
hypothesized a negative effect of lootboxes on intrinsic motivation, but our results did not indicate this
effect. However, long-term exposure to lootboxes might lead to such an effect and should, therefore, be
investigated in future research. Thirdly, we are amongst the first to develop a gamification design of a
lootbox. Thus, our design has yet to be applied and adapted in other instances, to fully understand the
mechanisms at play and how they give structure and form to a lootbox. Therefore, future research should
engage in developing, discussing, and evaluating different designs for lootboxes. Furthermore, we see
great value in comparing the gamification element of lootboxes with other elements (such as badges or
leaderboards) to understand when to use which elements. Fourthly, our study focused on the context of
completing a task (similar to a crowdworking setting). However, gamification research has shown that
gamification elements can influence various factors of human cognition and behavior, such as
enjoyment (Amabile et al. 1994; Teo et al. 1999), or learning outcome (Niemiec and Ryan 2009). The
effect of lootboxes on such factors constitutes a valuable area for future research. Lastly, we would like
to highlight the ethical dimension of gamification and lootboxes. Generally, influencing human behavior
and decision making has significant ethical consideration attached (Lembcke et al. 2019). For instance,
what goals justify interference with an individual’s freedom of choice? Should an individual be informed
about the measures implemented to influence its behavior? In the context of lootboxes, a recently started
controversy on the classification of lootboxes as gambling and, therefore, the addictive mechanism
(Koeder et al. 2018) has to be acknowledged. Therefore, we would like to direct future research into the
topic of gambling addiction and lootboxes, posing the question if lootboxes as a gamification element
run the risk of making users addicted to it.
Conclusion
The goal of our investigation was to provide insight into the effect of the potential gamification element
of lootboxes, lent from a recent trend in gaming. Specifically, we analyzed the effect of offering lootboxes
for a certain quantity of completed tasks on the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation as well as on the overall
quantity of completed tasks. The results of our research indicate that lootboxes can be an effective way
of gamifying non-gaming contexts, increasing extrinsic motivation, and the quantity of completed tasks.
In this context, our research contributes to gamification research by positing a new and effective
gamification element for future research and also adding lootboxes to the toolset of gamification
elements for IS developers.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank Malte Sommer and Jonas Zimmermann for their support during this research
project.
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