This week’s PopCult Toybox takes a look at Loot Crate, a subscription grab bag service aimed at the “geek and gamer” crowd. Loot Crate promises to be a monthly grab-bag of cool toys and other knick-knacks aimed at the “geek and gamer” crowd. To start out, I have mixed feelings.
I love grab bags and surprise packages. I always wanted to order them when I was a kid but could never persuade my parents that it was a good gamble for the money. Every year around Christmas time now, I order a big surprise package from Archie McPhee (a note to the guys at Archie McPhee: you can quit sending me Richard Wagner and Annie Oakley action figures any time now.) So I like the idea of a monthly surprise package.
I don’t particularly like the “geek and gamer” label. I freely admit that I grew up immersed in what is now unfortunately called “geek” culture. I also have to admit, I’m a little bothered by the fact that all the cool stuff I liked as a kid that made people think I was a nerd has finally become mainstream, but has brought the “geek” and “nerd” labels with it.
But that’s a minor bit of semantics. The question is, is Loot Crate worth the money?
The answer unfortunately is no. I have major issues with what I feel are their deceptive marketing and billing practices. But more importantly, it’s just not a very good value for the money.
Loot Crate plays a funny little word game when you sign up. You can sign up for a one month subscription for just under twenty bucks. You get a discount if you sign up for a three month subscription and a bigger discount if you sign up for a six month subscription. It sounds simple enough until you realize that a one month subscription does not last one month. It lasts forever, or until you cancel your account.
To be fair, Loot Crate, in very large type, uses the phrase “recurring subscription” in many e-mails that they send you when you sign up. In effect, they have covered their asses legally.
Ethically however, there’s still the problem that a “one month subscription” is going to be interpreted by the vast majority of people as lasting one month. I would imagine that the plurality of former Loot Crate customers left the service because of an unexpected second package which coincidentally, will be billed to your credit card just twenty days after your first month’s “subscription”.
So right off the bat, Loot Crate screws you. It would not kill them to change their “one month subscription” to “a recurring monthly charge.” That they don’t do this creates the appearance of sleaziness.
Having gotten past that hurdle, you have to ask “is it worth it?” The short answer is maybe, but it depends entirely on how selective you are about being spoon-fed “geek” culture. Another bit of deceptive wordplay is “Crate.” The “Crates” of late are small boxes measuring nine by six by three inches. “Loot Packet” might be a more appropriate name.
The first Loot Crate that I received for the month of May was themed “ADVENTURE.” I was expecting that it might be a little heavy on Adventure Time items. I was wrong. It did include one Adventure Time blind box tin figure with a retail value of around eight dollars. It also included a Minecraft hanger figure with a current retail value of around two bucks.
Also included in the package was a t-shirt which sported a design based on the video game Zelda. The design had previously been used by Tee Fury, but was reprinted here on a much cheaper t-shirt. I have to confess that despite being a lifelong devotee of comic books, video games, and other cool stuff, I only know that Zelda exists. I can’t tell you anything about it. I never played the game. Like Vienna to Midge Ure, it means nothing to me. The shirt was of the same quality that you find at stores like Five Below for five bucks.
Rounding out the package was a pinback button advertising Loot Crate, a set of worthless stickers sporting the logos of the obscure bloggers who “curated” the crate, and a postcard of some sort. There was also some kind of goofy key chain bottle opener that was tiny and easily forgotten until I wrote the second draft of this post. Oh, a CD of music from a webseries I never heard of was also tossed in.
The advertised value of the Loot Crate was supposed to be forty dollars and you can almost get to that amount if you say the shirt was worth twenty-five bucks, the Minecraft hanger was worth six (they’re two bucks everywhere you can find them now), and the stickers worth two bucks. That’s seriously quite a stretch.
Looking at it with my inside knowledge of how these things work, it’s obvious that they purchased the Minecraft and Adventure Time items for far less than regular wholesale price and custom printed the t-shirt, stickers, card, and button on the cheap. It’s really a pretty chintzy surprise package if it only contains three substantial items and a handful of promo crap. I realize that they have to turn a profit, but when you take the inflated postage charge into account, they’re probably doubling their money.
The theme for June was “TRANSFORM” and not being a Transformers fan or collector, I figured I would skip it. Loot Crate had other ideas and went ahead and billed me, then hid behind the “it clearly says on our website that the charge is recurring” excuse. So take into account that I’m already biased against this particular Loot Crate. It includes a Marty McPrime shirt, which is another design previously seen at either Tee Fury or Shirt Woot and it’s a fairly clever mashup of Back To The Future and Transformers. Also in this box is a Transformers blind box super-deformed figure, a Transformer Hex Bug, three pieces of Warhead penny candy, a terrycloth wristband, and some kind of gift card for five dollars off some online gaming service, which I will never use.
In terms of value, it’s worth more than the previous month’s. However it’s still nothing I would pay twenty bucks for, at least willingly. And so with that, I write off Loot Crate as a wonderful idea, poorly and cheaply executed with questionable billing practices. I can’t recommend them but if you want to try them out, the July Loot Crate will feature the first issue of Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon comic with an exclusive variant cover. Don’t think this will be rare or anything, since Loot Crate’s “exclusive” makes up one-third of the print run of the comic.
Be aware, if you search the web for more reviews of Loot Crate. The same folks who were savvy enough to fudge the meaning of “One Month Subscription” are also clever enough to send free Crates out to some of the more influential toy review blogs. Those folks seem to love Loot Crate and also think that the shirts are worth twenty-seven bucks.
I understand that there is a competing service, Nerd Block, which costs about ten dollars more when you take shipping into account and reportedly delivers about twice as much stuff, plus T Shirts that are actually officially-licensed items. Despite having a slightly offensive name, Nerd Block wins points by not playing word games with the fact that their charges are recurring. Nerd Block offers the option of a horror-themed package as well as less-expensive “blocks” tailored to younger boys and girls, so it comes across as a more thoughtful, honest, professional outfit. I will probably try them out in a month or so.