Lets Talk About Loot Boxes In Gaming
Another day another game, Once again Loot Boxes find themselves in the news again and the war on whether they are good or bad continues. We look into if they are the devil disguised as content or a nice way to “tip” the dev or get a bit extra out of the game.
Loot boxes are featured in some video games that contain randomized items that the player does not know until they open them. They may be purchased with real money or virtual currency, or accessed through gameplay. Loot boxes have been controversial for several reasons, such as their potential to cause addiction, exploit children, and violate gambling laws. In this piece, we will explore the pros and cons of loot boxes, and how the government is involved in regulating them.
Some of the benefits of loot boxes are:
- They can enhance the gameplay experience by providing a variety, of challenges, and rewards. Players may enjoy the thrill of opening loot boxes and discovering new items that can improve their performance or customize their characters.
- They can support the development and maintenance of video games by generating revenue for the developers and publishers. This can help them create more content, update the games, and offer free-to-play options for players who cannot afford to buy the games outright.
- They can offer players a choice and a sense of agency over how they spend their money and time in the game. Players can decide whether to buy loot boxes or not, and how much they want to invest in them. They can also trade or sell the items they get from loot boxes with other players.
Some of the drawbacks of loot boxes are:
- They can pose a risk of harm to vulnerable players, such as children and problem gamblers. Loot boxes can trigger addictive behaviors, such as compulsive spending, chasing losses, and excessive playing. They can also exploit psychological mechanisms, such as scarcity, social pressure, and sunk cost fallacy, to manipulate players into buying more loot boxes.
- They can undermine the fairness and balance of the game by creating a pay-to-win scenario. Players who buy more loot boxes may have an unfair advantage over those who do not, especially if the items they get are powerful or rare. This can create frustration and resentment among players, and reduce their enjoyment and satisfaction with the game.
- They can violate the laws and regulations of some countries that consider loot boxes as a form of gambling. Gambling is defined as risking something of value on an uncertain outcome that is determined by chance. Some loot boxes meet this definition, as they require players to pay money for a chance to win something of value. This can expose players to legal consequences, such as fines or bans.
The government is aware of the concerns around loot boxes and takes them very seriously. In 2020, it launched a call for evidence to gather information and opinions from various stakeholders, such as players, parents, industry representatives, researchers, and regulators 1. Based on the findings, it published a response in 2022 that outlined its objectives and actions to improve player protection with regard to loot boxes 2. Some of these actions are:
Convening a Technical Working Group of games industry representatives to develop and implement industry-led guidance on loot boxes 3. The guidance covers topics such as age ratings, parental controls, spending limits, disclosure of odds and probabilities, and ethical design principles.
Collaborating with academics, industry, and other government departments to develop a Video Games Research Framework to improve the evidence base on loot boxes and video games more broadly 4. The framework aims to facilitate independent academic research on the effectiveness and impact of industry-led protections, as well as other aspects of player safety and well-being.
Reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 with a particular focus on tackling issues around online loot boxes 2. The review will consider whether loot boxes should be classified as gambling products under the law, and what regulatory measures are needed to prevent harm.
Loot boxes are a complex and contentious issue that has implications for players, developers, publishers, regulators, and society at large. They have both positive and negative effects on the gameplay experience, the video game industry, and player welfare. The government is taking steps to address the challenges and opportunities posed by loot boxes, but more research and collaboration are needed to ensure that they are fair, transparent, ethical, and safe for everyone.
You can read about the latest development in this BBC post.