Introduced over a decade ago, loot boxes are a way for software providers to make extra money from a live game and for players to maximise their enjoyment of it. At least, this is how they work in theory. In practice, loot boxes have come under intense scrutiny, garnering plenty of negative press. For many people, loot boxes are no longer fun little extras but big business, and one with a strong gambling element.
What are loot boxes?
There is a wide variety of loot boxes, depending on the game and the potential benefits they bring. A player typically buys a loot box without knowing what is inside. Once purchased, they receive a bundle of goodies such as skins, weapons, treasure, tools, in-game currency, and a host of other upgrades ranging from insignificant to game-changing. Loot boxes can be a quick way of becoming much more powerful in a game, or they can be a complete waste of time, and of course, money.
In the good old days of gaming, players bought a fully formed video game and could play it from start to finish. Now, loot boxes and in-game purchases can have a significant impact on players’ progress. They’re also worth a lot of money, with a world-wide value estimated at $20 billion by the year 2025. With so much cash on the table, it is unlikely video game providers are going to give up the golden goose without putting up a fight.
Loot box controversy
For some, loot boxes might seem like a bit of harmless fun, a way of potentially augmenting a video game experience. Others, though, view loot boxes as straight-up gambling, similar to the thrills offered at online casinos like https://raj.bet or any other. The issue is that users have no idea what the value of the loot boxes will be before they are opened. As mentioned above, they could completely revolutionise in-game play or be totally worthless. This introduces a risk/reward element some say is akin to gambling.
In fact, a study by the University of British Columbia conducted on a cohort of adult North Americans revealed that most of them did perceive loot boxes as gambling. Furthermore, some gamers have displayed addictive behaviours, being unable to control themselves and spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars in the process of trying to get the items they want
Moves to protect underage players
The good news for people concerned about loot boxes is that there have been moves recently to protect gamers. One of the measures introduced by the gaming industry is a commitment to disclose drop rates or the odds of winning certain items from loot boxes. A number of software providers such as EA, Warner Brother, Ubisoft, and Activision Blizzard have shown interest in this approach.
Going even further, measures have been proposed in the USA to ban pay-to-play microtransactions and loot boxes for under 18-year-olds entirely. Other countries such as the UK, Germany, Netherlands, and Japan, amongst others, are keen to tackle the issue as well, either introducing new regulations or investigating whether to do so.
To sum up, it seems that loot boxes are both new ways to play and a new kind of real money gambling – depending on your point of view. Several countries are moving towards regulating loot boxes’ availability for young gamers, and there is a push for greater clarity around things like drop rates. One thing is clear, with so much money at stake, video game designers are unlikely to pull loot boxes from their games any time soon.