You may have noticed over the last few days that there has been quite a furore over the use of digital loot boxes in modern gaming. I intentionally stayed away from the subject until the debates played out more and I could research the intricacies rather than dive in with only a few facts and a flawed opinion.
The main gist of the argument is that loot boxes are a form of gambling or mimic the process of gambling so closely that they should fall under the purview of gambling laws. The process of not just loot boxes but the randomised rewards have been likened to fruit/slot machines. in that player’s use reel life currency to partake in a game of chance. The psychological response to hitting the jackpot or receiving a rare item is arguably indistinguishable. It seems pretty obvious the loot boxes are gambling right?
Well according to the law they are not. In fact, it is quite simple, every time you open a loot box you receive something. It might not be something you wanted but you still received something. This isn’t the same for gambling. Also the fact that once you add funds to purchase the microtransactions you cant “cash out” those funds means that there is no real life monetary gain so under UK law cannot be classed as gambling. It is only when the items received from loot crates are sold on third party sites that they can fall under the proceeds of gambling but even then it is the third party site that is at fault and not the original loot box.
In essence collecting, that skin for overwatch or that card in Hearthstone is really no different to opening a pack of Pokemon cards or a Kinder Egg. It is a randomised chance, you are guaranteed to receive something but it might not be what you wanted.
The debates continued to rage online and inevitably UK games classification board PEGI and its American counterpart ESRB were both asked if they would enforce gambling warnings on games. Both released statements that essentially said that unless games were classed as gambling by the definition of the law then they would not be taking any action but would be “mapping consumers complaints”
The debates and discussions refused to stop there though. They left the online sphere of discussion and entered the House of Parliament when the MP for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner asked two questions of Karen Bradley, the U.K.’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. Zeichner asked what steps she will take “to protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.”
His second question was specific to the jurisdiction of the Isle of Man, which has a stronger legal code specifically addressing “illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes” and whether such protections could be extended to the nation on the whole.
The arguments have since moved away from whether loot boxes are gambling or not and instead has moved to the behaviour of game companies and the implication of loot boxes.Star Wars Battlefront 2 recently suffered a fair bit of negative press when during the beta it was revealed players could use real money to purchase Loot boxes that gave players a damage boost or a reduction in damage taken, drastically altering the balance of the game. Shadow of War added an “extra ending” that requires a monumental grind to achieve or can be acquired easily through the purchase of loot boxes.
Gamers are attacking these practices for being “shady” and exploiting customers but the same tactics are used by games that are applauded for it. Grand Theft Auto Online players can spend weeks grinding to achieve enough in-game currency to purchase a new property/Business/car or alternatively can use real-life money to purchase a shark card that gives them in-game cash and skip out the weeks of gameplay. The money made from the small percentage of people that buy the shark cards is enough to ensure continued support and development that has made every upgrade and addition to GTAO free for all users.
The argument that EA business practice for Star Wars Battlefront 2 is aimed at the young and vulnerable fails on two points. It stereotypes all gamers as being incapable of any finacial responsibility and paints us out as a collective of vulnerable people who require protection and secondly it fails to acknowledge that the cost of game development has risen astronomically whilst the cost of games still remains at around £60. Instead of raising the price games companies seek to maximise profit through DLC, season passes and micro transactions.
At the end of the day, you might not agree with the business models employed or the tactics used but you can always CHOOSE not to purchase the loot boxes or the DLC. no one is forcing you to. If your complaint is that you spent £60 on a game and now there is content locked behind a £10 DLC or a £4 loot box then ask yourself this. If it wasn’t for all those extra add-ons the game could easily cost more than £100 and could you afford that?