Video games have evolved over time in more ways than one. Some of these changes directly affect the gameplay, but others are more related to the monetization of content. Some of the highest-earning titles are actually free to play and rely on in-game purchases in order to generate revenue. The online shops typically contain cosmetic assets, quality-of-life features, and the infamous loot-boxes.
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with the idea of having loot-boxes as a purchasable item in the in-game shop. However, when the idea is applied in a wider context it does raise some eyebrows. In fact, many connect loot-boxes as a form of gambling made available to underaged youth which clearly has legal repercussions. So, let’s see what loot boxes are, why they are causing trouble, how they are similar and different from real casino games, and if they can really lead to gambling problems.
What Are Loot Boxes?
Loot boxes are virtual items that players either get through playing or through purchasing with real money. They tend to contain cosmetics for their in-game characters or other items like weapons in CS:GO. However, the problem is that these items come in different rarities and some have a significantly lower chance of dropping compared to others. As a rare drop, an item becomes highly sought after and some would rather pay for it, rather than spend more money on loot boxes hoping it would eventually drop.
Since some of these items can be traded among players it creates an environment where someone is possibly winning money by getting lucky with their loot box drop. In other words, it really resembles gambling, as players are spending more money in hopes of getting these highly sought-after items, in order to sell them. This is why countries like the Netherlands and Belgium made loot boxes illegal, and why they have become a controversial topic in other countries as well.
Main Differences Between Real Money Casinos and Loot Boxes
Online casinos are also treated as a part of the gaming industry, but they offer fundamentally a different type of content. In order to run a real money online casino, one needs the corresponding license, and must also meet country-specific requirements. For example, real money casinos in Canada need to have a license from one of the following countries:
- The U.K.
This is because certain jurisdictions don’t issue licenses for casinos online, and by extension, it is illegal to have an online gambling site that is based there. But are loot boxes exactly the same as being able to gamble online for real money? Well, not really. Players need to find a buyer if the item is tradable in the first place, and there is no guarantee he or she will really pay for an item as much as online sites say it is worth. Moreover, if the items aren’t tradable, a player would need to sell the entire account that has the item, and most game developers tend to punish this type of behavior.
Still, it would be foolish to ignore the potential connection, and many developers are creating games without the possibility for players to trade. For example, digital card games like Magic The Gathering, Hearthstone, and Masters Duel don’t allow players to trade cards, even if it’s something they can do with real products. This is because the printed cards have a set number of printings, whereas digital ones are basically infinite, much like the number of times you can hit a jackpot while playing online casino slots.
Do Loot Boxes Lead To Gambling Problems?
It’s hard to say since players aren’t necessarily buying them in order to generate profit, most of them simply want cosmetic items that they can get. However, it does make them more open to these ideas, and less likely to shun the concept of gambling. Instead of viewing slots as a one-armed thief they just look at it as a loot box game.
However, it’s worth pointing out that some of these monetization strategies are really similar to casino bonuses. There are lots of special loot boxes deals that are available for a limited time, and the same can be said for casino bonuses and promo codes. So, even if there is no firm connection between this type of behavior and gambling addiction, being exposed to these practices is possible to make children less critical of gambling. Moreover, it can definitely be regarded as a reckless spending habit, which is a bad thing.
To sum up, loot boxes might not be the best monetization practice, even if players cannot trade their content. Disabling trade would help developers avoid potential legal compilation and it would lessen the connection with gambling. However, players are still chasing prestige and bragging rights, and making those things locked behind an RNG purchase is going to create problems. Whether one is gambling or buying a lot of digital goods online, can be irrelevant, if they are spending too much money on it.