“Cosmetic only” isn’t a good argument to make in PUBG’s lootboxes’ favour.
Lootboxes are a scourge of the industry, and the recent backlash against them thanks to abusive implementations like in Star Wars Batllefront 2 is thankfully leading to the industry backing off from them somewhat. However, an uneasy compromise between players and developers has long been the implementation of cosmetic lootboxes—i.e. lootboxes that offer only cosmetic items as drops, rather than anything that can directly affect gameplay (and potentially give an advantage to paying players).
However, in the case of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which is a game that similarly restricts lootbox drops to just cosmetic items, that may not necessarily hold fully true. In its lawsuit against NetEase (the company that brought two battle royale style games to smartphones before PUBG Corp had a chance to bring its game over), the developer argues that while its lootbox drops, being cosmetic, have no direct impact on gameplay, they can still affect it indirectly.
“The user can pick up additional clothing, such as jackets, pants, hats, goggles, glasses, gloves, masks, shoes and shirts. The pieces of clothing do not affect gameplay but is an artistic expression that provides the player with a visually diverse gameplay experience as well as allowing each player to express him/herself,” the specific text in the lawsuit reads.
“However, clothing does affect gameplay in terms of camouflage. Clothing can be used to assist the player to blend in with the environment, making the player less visually detectable.
“The player must visually detect an opposing player without any aid other than equipment found in gameplay, such as an optical scope. Thus, the colors and stylings of the clothing found in BATTLEGROUNDS adds to the rich tapestry of the gameplay experience while permitting artistic expression.”
If you think about it, this does make sense—given the importance of camouflage in BattleGrounds, the items and drops you get from lootboxes can definitely influence gameplay in some regard, even if they are entirely cosmetic. It raises important and interesting questions about the future of the implementation of lootboxes in games going forward—even cosmetic only ones may not be safe.