As a teenager I graduated to slot machines. Didn't need to wait for the Fair any more, nor a trip to the seaside and a long walk down a windy pier. City arcades were none too fussy about age checks so long as you kept pushing in the pennies.
By the time I was a student there were slot machines in pubs, chip shops, anywhere people stood around. It's a wonder they didn't think to build them into bus stops. They had heavy competition by then from Space Invaders, Galaxians, Frogger and the rest and I only had so much loose change but on a pub video game you always lose in the end. On a fruit machine you do occasionally win and if the coins going in were silver by then, so were the ones that came tumbling out.
So I've always gambled, yet I hate to lose money. Purely hate it. I was banned from playing poker in university because I'd play for hours and leave with the same cash I had when I arrived. Not the same amount. The very same notes and coins I came in with, near as dammit. I only like gambling when there's no gambling involved. I'm not really gambling at all. I'm buying amusement.
MMOs have always scratched this itch very well. All those Nameds in Everquest with their fair chance to drop something you didn't really want and their piddling little chance to drop something you really, really needed. What else were we doing when we camped the hill in Crushbone for hours on end, killing the Orc Trainer over and over again in the hope he'd finally drop the Shiny Brass Shield? Playing the slots, that's what. Pulling that arm one more time and hoping for a payout.
Then came the Lockbox.
Hard to remember now they're so ubiquitous but I think I saw my first lockbox in Allods. The thing about a lockbox is it, it's not a game. You don't open it because it's fun to see the numbers spin. You open it for what might be inside. Might. And it costs. You don't just sidle up to it and slip a gold in the slot. You need a key and there are always more boxes than keys. You never have enough. But you can always buy more. That's a well that never runs dry.
Of course you need a motivator. If the boxes had stuff you could get elsewhere, why buy keys? So the boxes have strange allure stuffed inside. Pets, mounts, hats. Treasures craveworthy and rare. Did I say rare? There are hens walking round with toothfilled beaks more common.
Me, I quite like a lockbox, once in a while. But then, I can let a phone ring until it stops. My curiosity is malleable. I'm not uninterested in the contents of the scores of Black Lion Chests stacked in my bank but their mystery will keep until a Black Lion Key chances to appear, say when I complete a map now and again.
And it seems to have been a better bet for me than I thought, too. The substantial sum that Storm Legion and a year to play it cost had seemed wasted with barely a few hours logged in Telara since then. Now that it seems to have contributed to a very substantial stash of the new currencies, Loyalty and Credit both, I feel more sanguine. F2P seems to have made me money. Imaginary money, anyway.
There's plenty in the Store that catches my eye. All those Dimensions and the things to put in them. Mounts faster than most of my Level 50s ever rode. Extra bag slots and bigger bags than I was ever willing to craft to go in them. And I have 20k to spend. We seem to have moved an awfully long way from either adventure or roleplaying but hey, shopping with someone else's money is a kind of fantasy too.
Rift is up to speed with the new trends in a way GW2 isn't quite yet. In Tyria I'm farming coffers and shattering holograms that spawn in the world, for an event. These are the ones I love because they don't even need a key, not like the Southsun Supply Crates, but if I want them, crates or keys, I either have to fight stuff or buy from the Store. My Deeps' Lock Box Key in Rift I got just for logging in.
Daily and weekly log-in loyalty is where it's at now. We don't care what you do so long as you just turn up. If you ain't here we can't sell you anything. The past few weeks, other than when I was seeing real castles in Spain, I have logged into City of Steam and DinoStorm every day. Every. Single. Day. I don't play either much, not because they aren't good - they are - but because I have a lot to do and I can't fit in everything I'd like. But I sure make time for those two because every log-in is its own prize.
So as I say it doesn't bother me. Much. I have a decades-long history of gambling for fun without really spending any money. This is just another manifestation. Do I think it adds value to my fantasy adventure life? Not so you'd notice, no. I'd probably prefer that it went away. But it won't so I'm working with it. Fun is where you find it, after all.