Whether you’re a hardcore gamer or casual console connoisseur, chances are that you’ve heard of the term “loot box”. Essentially, the term refers to digital grab bags that players purchase through the use of in-game currency or real money. Part of the allure surrounding loot boxes is that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get and different games place different rewards within their boxes. Loot boxes became national news prior to and during the release of Star Wars Battlefront II back in late 2017 due to the fact that gamers felt they were being forced to gamble in order to get the most out of the game. But are loot boxes a form of gambling? Politicians certainly seem to think so.
Why Have Politicians Gotten Involved?
Essentially, the issue surrounding loot boxes is whether they constitute a form of gambling or not. If this is found to be the case then there are a few glaringly obvious problems. Not only is there a discrepancy regarding the recommended PEGI ages for the games, there’s also a chance that said games could be encouraging underage gambling. The United States Federal Trade Commission have since conducted a full investigation and have proposed a national loot box ban. Outside of the U.S, a number of European gambling regulators have promised to “address the risks created by blurring the lines between gaming and gambling”. Despite taking a rather reserved approach to the issue of loot boxes in the past, the UK government have also waded in on the matter by recently allowing the public to have a say on the issue.
The Responses From The Gaming Companies
After Belgium began a full criminal investigation into FIFA’s loot boxes, gaming giant Blizzard issued a statement which made it clear that they disagree with the Belgian Gaming Commission’s “interpretation of Belgian law”. In addition to this, EA have have reassured UK parliament that loot boxes are “quite ethical”. Kerry Hopkins, EA’s vice president of legal and government affairs, appeared before the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee and affirmed loot boxes are simply a form of surprise mechanics. She also likened loot boxes to Kinder Eggs (the popular chocolate which contains toys inside) and pushed back on the idea that loot boxes are connected to gambling in any way. It is estimated that 20% of EA’s net revenue came in the form of selling FIFA Ultimate Team packs last year. With this in mind, the company are understandably worried about the discussion surrounding laws to ban in-game payments.
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Ethics vs Profits
From a neutral perspective, it seems that purchasing items with the potential to win prizes of an unknown nature is akin to buying a scratchcard or lottery ticket. In the modern day business climate, reputation counts for just as much as profit. As an example of this within the gaming sector, lottery operators such as Lottoland are well respected in the industry due to their fundraising efforts and continue to gain loyal customers as a result. At the very least, companies need to be seen as acting ethically in order to keep themselves in good moral standing.
It’s difficult to ascertain whether companies such as Blizzard and EA truly believe that loot boxes share no connection with gambling whatsoever. For now, we’re not quite sure where the future of loot boxes lie. However, with increased scrutiny from government bodies and regulators all around the world, it’s fair to say that loot boxes as we know them today will soon be a thing of the past.