Loot boxes are one of the newest innovations in the world of gaming. They have come into many different games in a very big way. Because of the way that loot boxes are structured they have been compared to gambling in a number of ways. The gaming industry obviously refutes these claims, but there are a number of similarities that makes it difficult to take their refutations seriously in a comparable way.
Fortnite, Apex Legends, Fifa and Star Wars Battlefront II are all games that have used the loot box mechanic. Star Wars Battlefront II was obviously the most controversial of these games as it caused a large storm at the time. So, is there actually a difference or are the games companies just trying to brush over their indiscretions.
Loot Box Mechanics
Loot boxes work by giving players the opportunity to earn in game rewards. These can vary from a new costume for your character to a high powered weapon. They’re very popular in lots of modern games, with mobile games specifically using loot boxes to generate revenue.
The way that they work is by giving players the chance to spend in game currency on a loot box. This will then have a chance for players to get what they want. For example if you’re playing an action game and want a particular weapon it might be available from a loot box. However, this isn’t a guarantee. There will be a percentage chance that you can get it from the loot box, but there are other, less desirable, bonuses available.
It’s from here where the gambling element comes in. If players run out of the in game currency needed to purchase loot boxes, they can buy more using real money. This means that if you open a loot box using in-game tokens you have bought with real money, you’re essentially paying for an opportunity to get the new weapon you want. If you don’t get it, then you will need to either do without it, or purchase more tokens.
Many regulatory groups feel that this is gambling. On top of this, and this is where the biggest issue comes in, they feel that this is both promoting and normalising gambling in children.
Is there a Difference?
This is a nuanced question. While the basic premise of loot boxes is the same as gambling, because there isn’t a monetary prize on offer, most gaming companies feel that this differentiates them. It is undoubtedly a grey area though, as the in game currency does cost money to purchase.
The constantly evolving nature of video games and how loot boxes are applied also means that gambling regulators haven’t been able to have a great deal of influence on how they work. This doesn’t mean that regulators have been ignoring the loot box issue, it just means that so far they have been unable to provide any legislation that can hold up on the methods that gaming companies use.
Is it a Lost Cause?
This doesn’t mean that regulators have given up protecting players though. The latest belief is that gambling regulators will be able to combat the way loot boxes work by using consumer protection regulation. This will treat the loot boxes as a purchase and then from there players will be able to get more protection.
This doesn’t mean that loot boxes will be going away. It just means that gaming companies will have to be more open about how they work. Currently a lot of companies are highly secretive about the mechanics behind their loot boxes. Electronic Arts are one specific example of this. Fifa loot boxes have long been thought to behave in an erratic manner. If EA are forced to reveal how these loot boxes are calculated it means that players will be able to see how the prizes they receive come along.
This will make it easier for players to decide if the risk is worth it. This could in turn cause gaming companies to rethink how they offer loot boxes to players. An example of this could be that players no longer use loot boxes because they see how the risk plays out. This will cause revenue to fall and from there companies will have to reevaluate their business models.
One method that they could use to change this is to switch to allowing players to purchase the items that they want directly. While the moral arguments about players having to purchase in-game items for something they have already paid for could rage on and on, it’s undisputed that this would be a better method than the current way.
Reasons to Change
It is safe to say that loot boxes definitely introduce the prospect of gambling to players from a young age. Whether it counts as gambling in a strict sense is debatable, but the general concept behind them is exactly the same.
We asked the team of onlinecasino-southafrica.co.za, a portal about online gambling, about their opinion on lootboxes. They said: As gambling in games is a hughe problem in South Africa we would like to have a complete ban or a strict limitation on way of earning money with loot boxes. Just like real casinos a age verification must be done and transactions should be monitored.
For this reason, probably in more countries, it makes complete sense to either remove loot box mechanics from video games or regulate them fully to make sure that they are only accessible to players who are old enough to decide whether they want to gamble or not.