Are Loot Boxes Gambling?

The Modern Day Gaming Debate

Overwatch Loot Box, Blizzard Entertainment 

Video gaming in the modern age can be brilliant. In a moment's notice, you can be connected to people on the other side of the world, challenging to be the best in glorious 4K graphics. It's truly something to appreciate. Games are worked on after release to fix bugs and provide the optimal gaming experience. More is invested in big releases and that's great, but with this comes what some see as one of modern gaming's biggest scams: Loot boxes. 

Now it's no lie that AAA games cost a LOT of money to make. The original Destiny was the first ever half-billion dollar game and with a price tag of around $60, that's a lot of revenue to try and recover. So the solution? Include content locked behind a paywall (something that Destiny exploited) or include the use of what seems to be the more popular option, microtransaction loot boxes. 

Most recently, the backlash against EA has highlighted the problems with this system. Its yearly release of FIFA has been accused of implementing a subtle "pay to win" system. How are you supposed to compete when the guy you're facing who invested an extra $100 into the game has a team full of icons & inform players? Sure "GET GOOD" is what you're told by self-proclaimed pro players, but most of us over the age of 18 don't have enough spare time to invest. Sure, you can earn enough money to buy certain players, but when you're paid a pitiful 500 coins per match and someone like Lionel Messi costs between 1-2 million coins, it's near on impossible. If anyone has actually done this I'd love for them to get in touch. 

Similarly, EA faced accusations upon the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2 and their microtransaction loot box systems. So much so that EA was forced to backtrack on their initial business plan. This, however, didn't stop the fans from speaking, throwing a below average rating on both games on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Neither of their two biggest releases of the year reaching above a 2 and a half star rating. 

Gamers are happy to invest more in a game when they feel they're being treated fairly. Cosmetic upgrades in games such as Rocket League and Counter-Strike offer the option to improve their experience without unbalancing the game. There's less of a feeling that the company has one hand leading you into the experience and the other on your debit card. 

The debate on whether this constitutes gambling has reached governmental levels with Belgium's Gaming Commission launching an investigation into the similarities between conventional traditional forms of gambling and loot boxes. They believe loot boxes are in fact dangerous to the development of young people's attitudes towards money. The risk and reward factor gets skewed. 

It's easy to see why they would make this connection. Many of the systems in games do hold a striking similarity to those found in slot machines. There's also quite the similarity in the rush you get flipping your cards in a game of Blackjack or Poker and finding out what player you received out of a pack in FIFA. Video game companies really did hook into something in the minds of a generation bought up with Pokémon Cards; gosh darn those crafty fat cats. 

The worrying thing is that the findings from this investigation could have major consequences for us consumers. If Belgium's Gaming Commission does prove their hypothesis, it's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that other countries would follow suit. 

If this does become the case, then companies are going to look for other ways to make up that lost revenue. Maybe they start releasing a bare-bones base game with multiple modes hidden behind paywalls like many mobile games. Maybe they hike the price up nearer the $100 price mark or maybe they stop investing so much time, effort, and money into games as a whole.        

Whatever ends up happening, you can be sure that the consumers and gamers around the world are going to be the ones who end up footing the bill.  

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Are Loot Boxes Gambling?
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