Lootboxes: Get All the Lowdown Here

by Palabar

Millions of people play video games every day. It’s a rising, titanic industry, with lots of growth every day, and more still to come. There are some who view video games as a waste of time, or even like a childish activity, but video games are most certainly a thing, and they’re here to stay! Video games also have huge money-making potential.

Some tournaments, e-sports-events, and conventions revolve entirely around these games. However, there are predatory practices and practices that toe the line of what is acceptable. One of the most recent, and publicly condemned practices, is the inclusion of Lootboxes.

What is a Lootbox?

A Lootbox is a random set of rewards in a video game that a player earns by paying for it with real-world money. Some games allow the player to earn Lootboxes through gameplay, but typically the most expedient way to get them is by pulling out your wallet.

If you have ever played a collectible card game, such as Magic the Gathering, Pokémon, or Yu-Gi-Oh, you’re probably used to the booster packs companies sell – which are very similar. If you’re still confused, think of toys that are presented in, say, cereal boxes. You don’t know what you’re going to get if you’re going to get anything or the quality of what you might find.

So what’s so problematic about these Lootboxes? Well, the most heinous kinds are the ones that include items or characters or cards that actually affect gameplay. A term that’s thrown around for this practice is “pay-to-win.”

The idea is that the person who will win the most is the player that forked out the most money. It’s not fair, and it’s not fun for people who either don’t have as much money to throw around or just don’t want to spend as much on the game.

If we compare this to, say, Pokémon, the player who will win the most is the one who bought hundreds of packs to get that ultra-rare version of Pikachu that does twice as much damage as the others – this is a made-up example, but that’s the gist of it.

Many games avoid this problem by only including randomized cosmetic rewards. As an example, these items don’t affect how much damage your character’s machine gun does but will put smiley faces all around the barrel instead. However, if your purchase doesn’t affect the game, then what is your purchase worth?

Lootboxes and Gambling

Now, you may be rereading the title and wondering what does this have to with gambling? Take a moment to think about how online casino games work on a technical level.

Casino games, such as slot machines or roulette, allow the player to gamble, but these aren’t physical machines or tables. The casino games are on a computer server, that generates a result based off of predetermined odds to check if you win or lose.

Even Poker and Blackjack have odds calculators that work to pass out cards to the players and house as if it were a real deck. If you’re lucky, you get a better hand or end result. Now, what is a game with a Lootbox doing on the technical level? It’s using a predetermined set of odds to give the player a reward or result. Is that so different from what casino games do?

Legally, there are a few major differences. First of all, casino games usually allow the player to leave with money, sometimes more but usually less than what the player started with.

Lootboxes, on the other hand, only allow a player to put money in, and that’s about it! The player cannot resell or return the smiley-face weapon for the money they used to buy it. Legally, that could mean it’s not gambling by definition, although it makes a pretty strong argument against Lootboxes anyway.

The more subtle, and dangerous, problem is the predatory argument; that these Lootbox mechanics trigger the same kind of addictions that gambling and casino games do anyway. Gambling addiction is a real problem, and if these Lootboxes really do trigger the same kind of addictions, especially in Video Games designed and marketed towards a younger-than-legal-adulthood audience, then that’s a major concern to be addressed.

However, in fairness to the game companies, the science and the data is still out on whether or not that’s the case. All that means, however, is that more research needs to be done, sooner rather than later.

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