Are Loot Boxes Gambling? And Should It Be Regulated As Such?
Loot crates and microtransactions have been a common trend in the gaming industry for quite some time.
Microtransactions have their origins from the free to play model of games that emerged on mobile apps. The basic gist of these types of games is that x game is free to play, but then progression gradually gets harder. As the game gets harder to progress, players would get drawn to the microtransaction side of the game, which for real money, the player can purchase items or lives which will aid them in getting them further to completion. This model of gaming has found its way to £50 games in recent years. Particularly in MMOs such as Overwatch and CSGO. It is even becoming a feature in the upcoming Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.
One of the more latest evolutions to the microtransaction models is the loot crate, a process where players can pay real money in order to get randomised items such as weapons, clothes etc.
There is an issue here, this sounds awfully like gambling.
The agreed upon definitions of gambling is as follows;
- Playing of games for the chance of money.
- Taking a risky action for a desired result
The gaming industry has defended the microtransaction craze to death, saying that they are merely cosmetic functions and entirely optional elements to the game. That is a discussion for another day. Now, where loot boxes are concerned, where this is optional and not a vital function of the game, it is a very questionable feature. Gambling laws all over the world state that only an adult can gamble, the age can vary depending on the country. Gambling has many risks. Not only can people have the potential to win large amounts of money or lose a large amount of it instead, it is also very addictive.
Laws are put in place to ensure that the vulnerable do not get caught up in this particularly addictive lifestyle. The same reason why alcohol has similar laws. Loot boxes are addictive. I don’t personally play games which has loot boxes as part of their gameplay, but I can see the appeal because I am old enough to gamble and have gambled in the past. So by looking at loot boxes at face value, it seems like gambling. Players can invest money into a randomised box which can either give you items which are useful or nice to look at. The thing is, due to the randomised nature of the boxes, you can either get something which is not great or something that you already have. So, you put more money into the boxes hoping to get a different result. A brief science lesson about the effects of addiction is that the brain releases a chemical called dopamine into the system whenever someone experiences pleasure. This pleasure can accord in a variety of things, such as sex, alcohol, gaming, drugs and gambling. When the dopamine is released, people would go on to continue such activities to get that dopamine fix. When that dopamine overloads the brain due to excessive pleasure-seeking, people continue to partake in behaviour which will get that dopamine fix which now lasts a lot less than before due to excess. This is an addiction.
So where do loot boxes come into play? A player who gets amazing rewards from the boxes will continue to invest in the boxes until they get the reward they seek. Eventually, a lot of money could be potentially lost due to continued use of the loot crate system, which can have a detrimental effect on a person’s life. Where this isn’t an example of the first definition of gambling which was set out earlier, it really does fit into the second definition.
So why is this a problem? While this isn’t traditional gambling, the vulnerable are being exposed to this kind of activity i.e people with gambling addictions already and the demographic which gambling legislation seeks to protect, children. Exposing children, whether it is young children or teenagers, to this kind of gambling is essentially a gateway drug to the real thing. Being exposed to this activity will show children what gambling is and when they eventually come to age, they could potentially go on to partake in actual gambling to an excess due to them thinking it being same as loot boxes in video games. Yes, parents do have a responsibility to make sure that their children are aware of dangers of partaking in certain activities in life. While young children would mostly won’t have access to finances unless a lapse of judgement enables the child to get hold of card details, teenagers can have bank accounts. So they are going to have direct access to games with loot boxes, and they will use their own money. Teenagers may think they know the world better than everyone, but many of them don’t know the consequences of actions until it happens to them, which can have horrible results. Developing a gambling addiction at a young age is not ideal.
So there must to some sort of regulation in place to make sure that responsible use of loot boxes. Maybe within actual gambling legislation itself? There is not. This is down to it not being traditional gambling because no money is being won from the investment of loot boxes. The law sees it as any normal purchase, even though the investment produces a random outcome, which is what gambling is. This is the loophole that gaming companies take advantage of so that they can make this sort of gambling accessible to everyone. Incidents like the CSGO gambling sites show that money can be made using the loot system, which sets a dangerous precedent for the future of loot systems in video games. Certain actions must be taken to make sure that this kind of gameplay doesn’t spiral out of control.
Does this mean that the loot box system should be removed? No, it shouldn’t. People have the right to spend their money the way they see fit. But if alcohol and actual gambling are regulated to adults, then why can’t loot boxes be too? If the law is taking its time to realise that this is gambling in a more simplistic form, then why can’t game companies take measures to ensure that teenagers or children are not exposed to gambling to make sure they go into adulthood with a more sensible attitude to gambling? Age restrictions could work. Most online games need an account in order for them to be played and consoles do have parental controls on them. Surely these systems could be used in unison in order to make sure that certain content is available to a certain audience. But at the moment nothing is happening. More and more games devs are putting a loot system into their games because they make a lot of money, and this could potentially spiral out of control. CSGO has shown the potential dangers, but the lawmakers and the game devs have learned nothing.
One thing is clear, loot boxes are technically gambling, and can have a detrimental effect on a players life if used irresponsibly. Let’s make sure that people understand the dangers, and make sure that youngsters are not wholly exposed to this gambling behaviour.
Hopefully the law will see that this is gambling soon, but for now, let us be a bit more cautious yeah?