Loot boxes: Monetisation in gaming has become gambling

A ‘Prisma 2 Case’ being opened, from the popular game Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

The House of Lords classifies loot boxes as “games of chance”

On Thursday last week, in a report from the House of Lords, it was stated that loot boxes were “games of chance” and therefore came under the 2005 Gambling Act. This is a development that could lead to the potential banning of loot boxes in the U.K all together. In 2018 loot boxes were entirely banned in Belgium, which many applauded as a positive move away from gambling within video games. However, this only outlines that we are behind the times in the U.K, in regards to gambling regulation. The chance for this ban to happen should be welcomed in an instant.

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes are items within video games that are given a randomly generated number and spin much like roulette wheels. Most loot boxes offer upgrades, character or weapon skins (pictured above) and other rewards. Most loot box systems within video games do not offer the specific statistics or probability numbers for the items inside of them. This gives a false sense of probability, as the worst items can be in the same quantity as the best, yet the best have a 95% lower chance of being received. Often loot boxes are purchasable directly with real life money.

Why are loot boxes in video games so dangerous?

The striking issue with loot boxes within games, is the fact that they are within games. It can feel less ‘real’ to spend money on virtual loot boxes, than it does to physically hand the money over. Much of gambling and slot machines is already behind this guise of it being ‘a game’. However, when it’s actually within a product that is by definition a ‘game’, it can feel as if it is part of the gameplay. The reality is the opposite.

Games from the early 2010’s would largely contain set price DLC cosmetics for no more than £10. Most AAA games nowadays contain in-game currency, pricing from £5 to usually at least £80. In-game currency is used to purchase loot boxes. DLC has greatly strayed from its actual meaning, ‘Downloadable Content’. The term DLC is now more in reference to the trade-off between real money and in game money. Games that contain loot boxes simply encourage gambling from a young age. Take video game series such as FIFA, with a PEGI rating of 3, which contain randomised packs to be opened. Why is it so far-fetched that opening loot boxes when young could lead to gambling issues in the future?

Streamers and other influencers are most definitely a part to blame in the success of loot boxes. Many will do ‘pack openings’ or ‘crate openings’ and amass millions of views. The actions of influencers encourages others to follow their lead, especially those with younger audiences. Loot box content is far more appealing if someone you look up to is purchasing and opening them. Gambling in video games needs to be taken seriously.

What consequences have loot boxes had on various games?

Many games such as Overwatch, have opted to only include cosmetic items in loot boxes. Gaming communities are generally accepting of cosmetic only loot boxes. However, set price tags for set items is the desired monetisation option. The alternative preference being no monetisation.

Popular title Call of Duty had its largest run in with loot box lash back with its release of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014). COD:AW had a sizeable monetisation system that many referred to as ‘pay to win’ or ‘P2W’. The meaning behind this was that you greatly benefitted by purchasing the game’s loot boxes, as they contained better items than the basic ones you received with the base game. There was no way however to receive the better items other than through the randomised loot boxes. COD:AW became less populated quickly. The most recent Call of Duty title, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), does not feature loot boxes.

Star Wars Battlefront II locked a sizeable portion of in game content behind a paywall of loot boxes – which was later reverted removing them entirely from the game, a move which greatly benefitted the game’s health and allowed it to become something truly enjoyable. It had gotten so bad prior to the change that an internet wide petition was created to try and revoke EA’s Star Wars license. It received over 200,000 signatures. If loot boxes are to be banned, it will surely make many games safer, especially those with younger player bases.

BBC report: House of Lords call for gambling regulation: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53253195

Adam Zak Hawley

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