Why are lootboxes so controversial?

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The gaming world is filled with elements of gambling and even the gambling industry itself in more recent times has exploded thanks to further reaching devices and other mobile-based smartphone technology. Thanks to its ever-growing popularity it’s no surprise to see that certain apps, games and gaming experiences are jumping on the band wagon.

But it’s not always done with the best intentions and unfortunately this has begun leading to a lot of controversy. Questions have been raised as to whether or not these types of “gambling”-based elements are welcome, particularly in the video gaming market.

WHAT IS A LOOT BOX?

Loot boxes may be a term you’ve heard of recently, particularly in the news. Not to be confused with similarly named subscription box services, where you receive a monthly bundle of toys and other collectibles in the post. These instead an in-game gambling elements which have managed to cause plenty of uproar, particularly in and amongst the gaming community.

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These virtual video game consumables force players to either spend real money or their in-game currency on in order to buy. However, whilst many games offer in-game purchasing loot boxes differ in the fact that you simply have no idea of the box contents. The rewards inside these digital boxes can vary greatly. They can range from special avatar customisation options, gaming weapons or other potentially game enhancing add-ons and features.

WHY ALL THE CONTROVERSY?

Uproar surrounding loot boxes became more prominent in recent months due to the release of the action shooter sequel Star Wars Battlefront II. The release from Electronic Arts featured loot boxes and fans were not happy.

Many players feel that they are being forced to gamble for these potentially attractive bonuses. Without truly knowing if what they’re spending their money on has any actual benefit does appear to be quite underhanded.

Most in-game purchases are made knowing what you’ll be getting and therefore having a full understanding of what you’re buying. Players will pay for add-ons like this where perhaps their gaming character or the development of the gaming experience itself is enhanced in some way.

With all this controversy surrounding the concept of loot boxes it has come as no surprise to see a number of nations beginning to ban them entirely. Just recently Belgium followed in the footsteps of the Netherlands by completely banning all loot boxes that feature in video games.

Interestingly the Belgian Gaming Commission looked at a number of high profile games including FIFA 18, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the aforementioned Star Wars Battlefront II. The latter, however, didn’t violate their national gambling legislation simply because EA decided to remove all loot boxes from the game following the heightened controversy and publicity it received upon release.

 

WHAT’S THE CONCERN?

The main concern for many relates to the number of young players who play these games frequently. Under age gambling is illegal in most countries and therefore this type of in-game manipulation seems dodgy to say the least.

These boxes are based on chance which clearly violates gambling laws and subjects many under age children around the world to elements of gambling.

These minors need to be protected and it’s clear from statements made by these governing bodies that they are very keen to stop the growth of gambling addiction.

With this responsibility and ethical dilemmas aside it’s down to the gaming companies and developers to try and resolve issues such as this in order to help keep the industry moving in the right direction.

There’s no doubt the gaming industry as a whole has seen many new developments in recent years. There has been a complete shift in the way that games are made and marketed and it’s important for them to understand how influential they are, particularly on the youth market.

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Micro transactions and other in-game purchases are nothing new and are a necessity for many app and game developers to incorporate in some manner in order to help drive revenue.

These mechanisms are no doubt important for the shifting marketplace. They allow gaming companies to sell games even cheaper than before because they are able to make up the shortfall with smaller and more monetised game enhancing add-ons.

In fact it’s a business model that has proved phenomenally well for the mobile gaming market in particular.

It’s these mini-transactions that often players buy without even really thinking about or considering the long-term impact. You can repeat purchase again and again through online accounts and it’s these transactions that soon add up.

If gaming companies are targeting gamblers then this could mean a lot of trouble for those suffering with addiction.

MOVING FORWARD

There appears to be no doubt that loot boxes and the games they’re incorporated in require better regulation. Players don’t wish to be exploited and the loot box mechanics will often be perceived as exactly that. EA have already stated that they will continue to place loot boxes within their games despite the current wave of bans. How long this will continue without serious repercussions is anybody’s guess.

 

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