A couple of weeks back I was tooling around the Blue Mountains in a Tesla Model S in order to test out the latest features of Autopilot. As a first-time Tesla driver, I had never been privy to the accompanying app, or the treasure box that glinted at me from the top-right. In fact, I didn't even notice it first. I was firmly distracted by the ability to honk the horn from inside my living room.
But it the beckoning glint did eventually catch my eye. Curious, I tapped... excited to see what awaited me. And that's when I discovered that Tesla has loot boxes.
This won't be new to Tesla connoisseurs, but it certainly caught my attention — not only as a gamer, but because of all the negativity that has been surrounding the term over the past couple of years.
Loot boxes are a complicated issue but in general they're digital items that give a player a reward. Some of these offer advantages in the game, and others simply cosmetics. But the common thread is that they are often randomised, so you don't know what you're going to get.
While players can earn loot boxes by simply playing the game, there is almost always an option to buy more with real-world money.
Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II are two well-known examples, with both games removing their loot box models from the game following a public backlash. An EA representative's response to the outcry on Reddit is still the platform's most downvoted comment of all time.
On the flip side, there are games like Overwatch and League of Legends where loot boxes merely contain cosmetics that may not offer gameplay advantage, but still a form of exclusivity that tempts players to buy more to increase the chances of getting the skins, etc that they want.
I'll admit, I have bought loot boxes myself — mostly in a quest to get rare D.Va skins I didn't get after weeks of grinding. And that's exactly the point — it feels great to warn them but you're conveniently provided with the option to buy more if you're not getting what you want. But the outcomes and rewards aren't guaranteed. It's for this reason that loot boxes are considered by some as a form of gambling.
With this background, I was eager to find out exactly what Tesla loot boxes entailed. Customised lighting schemes? New paint jobs? Upgrades?
I tapped the icon with excitement ... only to discover that it's just a referral program. And it works exactly how you think it would.
Tesla owners can receive rewards for getting their mates to buy a Model S or X. It's a tiered system, so more referrals equals better rewards. The Model 3 isn't currently part of the program — probably because there are no delivery dates as yet.
Here's what came up on my phone:
Basically, if one or two people buy a Tesla Model S or X you can get either $700 worth of credit or a black wall connector with Elon's signature. Personally, I would be going for the former since Tesla's already come with a wall connector for your house.
The Tesla website outlines the rewards for the first five customer referrals:
Some of the rewards are obviously better than others. I don't think trying out a new Model S or X for a week is really on par with helping making the company around $400K. But a Powerwall 2 and Solar Roof are cool rewards. Although I assume some added expenses will be involved.
The friends who buy a new vehicle also get a rewards - unlimited Supercharging with the purchase of a new Model S or Model X. That's a pretty good deal if you were going to buy a Tesla, anyway.
They programs also seem to cycle — vehicles need to be bought between certain times to be eligible. The program page refers to previous referral programs and their corresponding rewards. The most recent program had and end date of yesterday.
There are also allegedly secret levels and rewards that can be obtained. In 2017 there were reports that customers who reached the first secret level and subsequently refer five friends have the chance to buy a next gen Roadster with 10% off. Jalopnik also reported that you could get one for free if you convinced 50 people to buy a Tesla.
Being 12 months later, this may have changed. But I do like the idea of secret levels and prizes in all of its blatant gamification glory.
While I was mildly alarmed when I initially saw the term "loot box" in the Tesla app, it's nice to know its a regular rewards program. Albeit for people with Tesla money. Those two little words may not have a connection with controversy, gambling and general negativity for Tesla customers. It probably just sounded like a cooler way to brand the program than "loyalty" or "referral".
But for a gamer like me, it definitely stood out.