“Premium Anonymous”

This Way Up, The Wrong Digital Art Biennale 2019

An online pavilion curated by Sidney Smith and Jim Bicknell Knight. A small group of artists submitted works to be included in an Art Loot Crate which was then unboxed by a Youtuber. A webshop/online pavilion was created to bring light to today’s subscription of in game merchandise, physical trinkets and the dangerous undercurrent of online gambling using real money to gain virtual items. It asks the questions - What is the Loot Crate’s position socially? What would an art themed Loot Crate look like? How do they perpetuate fandom?

Click here to view the pavilion.

My submission, derived from sobriety coins rewarded to members of addiction groups as they reach important milestones (in this case, Gambler’s Anonymous), was an “art” token to signify a level of membership so that the member is able to track the duration of their subscription, encouraging a continuous revenue for the loot crate company. A “collect them all” pamphlet (displaying 3D rendered tokens of higher levels of subscription) was also included to further motivate the user to renew their subscription.

Loot Crates can be collection based blind boxes - players pay a small fee for a chance to obtain a random assortment of virtual or physical items. Many companies run IRL subscription services, where paying members receive a box of curated items every month via the postal service. In video games, these rewards can be in game items that can ease or improve their gameplay experience.

Physical Loot Crates are often a subscription service delivering themed merchandise (e.g. superhero t-shirts, figurines, key rings, etc). For the most part these Loot Crates can be relatively harmless - however there is often a more sinister undercurrent when it comes to the virtual versions.

Unlike the physical versions, which are mostly sustained by fan bases who are happy to buy little trinkets relating to their favourite show or film, the online versions can often deliver prizes that equate to a type of currency in the online game. Virtual loot crates may offer players random packs of in game items that can ease or upgrade their gaming experience - some are duds, some are so valuable that they are auctioned on eBay.

Players use real money to buy these packs for the chance to gain rare virtual items. This has been likened to gambling, and when many of the fan base are children or young adults, there are concerns that they might normalise gambling outside of the game. Essentially, they are digital scratch cards, with no age restrictions or quantity limitations.