The debate of whether or not loot boxes constitute gambling refuses to die down and go away. They are everywhere in video games these days. First-person shooters and sports sims are the most popular genre for loot boxes but several others have implemented them.
Several prominent organisations have likened loot boxes to gambling. It’s not like loot boxes are akin to one of the top sportsbooks in the world and placing a bet on a soccer match. Or is there that similarity?
Licenses Owned by Blizzard/Activision.
- What Are Loot Boxes?
Loot Boxes stem from loot systems in MMORPG and have been around in one way shape or form since around 2004 but have become more prevalent in recent years. They are often given to players for “levelling up” their character, completing challenges, or progressing through the game.
The boxes contain random prizes, such as new weapons and skins, or new playable characters.
The issue some have with loot boxes is the fact you can purchase them with real world or in-game currency; you can buy in-game currency with actual money. As the contents of the loot box are randomly assigned by an algorithm on the game’s servers, the player has no control over what is in the box.
Electronic Arts (EA) have the most lucrative loot boxes in the industry. Its FIFA Ultimate Team, where players can unlock packs containing cosmetics and better real-world football stars, is worth more than $1 billion annually. EA implemented these packs into its Madden NFL, NBA Live, NHL, and UFC titles.
- Countries Come Down Hard On Loot Boxes
Some Asian countries are very strict when it comes to loot boxes. China, for example, initially forced game developers to display the probability of receiving a meaningful prize from the boxes; some were as low as 0.1%.
Blizzard, owners of the massive FPS hit Overwatch, removed the ability for Chinese nationals to purchase loot boxes.
It is now an offence to sell loot boxes to children under the age of eight years in China and there’s a monthly limit of between 200-400 renminbi ($30-$60) per month for over 18s.
Belgium is the strictest European country when it comes to loot boxes. Belgium completely banned them from video games after decided they are “in violation of gambling legislation”. The Belgium Gaming Commission has the power to levy fines of €800,000 ($970,000) and issue prison sentences of up to five-years on publishers allowing Belgians to purchase loot boxes.
Loot boxes are still allowed in the United Kingdom and United States although representatives from both nations have voiced concerns about them. While neither country regard loot boxes as outright gambling, they are continually reviewing the situation.
Licenses Owned by Valve.
- Will Loot Boxes Ever Be Banned Globally?
The industry needs to regulate itself before countries’ governments does it for them. Some publishers have already taken steps to make loot boxes more transparent, some quite literally.
Epic Games, owners of the gargantuan Fortnite franchise, made its Loot Llamas see-through in Fortnite’s Save The World game. Players can physically see what they are going to receive for their purchase.
Again, it is down the industry to police this phenomenon but they don’t have any real reason, other than on moral ground to do so. Loot boxes are huge business and account for large percentages of a publisher’s revenue.
Furthermore, tech-savvy users can set up their various accounts using a VPN and appear to be located in a country where loot boxes are permitted.
Some of the responsibility needs to fall at the feet of parents, however. Children typically have no way to earn loot boxes apart from grinding the game as the publishers intended. They pressure their parents into allowing them to spend actual money on in-game currency.
Parents have a responsibility to protect their children. As someone who went to the midnight launch of Grand Theft Auto V in September 2013 as a 31-year-old only to be surrounded by a crowd whose average age was probably 12 at the most, I can say first hand some parents are not doing enough right now.