In the digital realm of legal online gambling, the realm of loot boxes has emerged as an integral component of the immersive gaming landscape. Comparable to the act of naming your character, these virtual treasure troves have seamlessly integrated themselves into the fabric of video game experiences.
As players embark on their quests for victory, the allure of unlocking unknown treasures through loot boxes adds an element of suspense and surprise, akin to the anticipation felt in online gambling.
However, while legal online gambling provides a regulated platform for adults to indulge in games of chance, the prevalence of loot boxes has raised concerns about their potential resemblance to gambling mechanics, particularly when it comes to younger players.
Loot, There It Is
It’s impossible to know which video game had the first loot box. Power ups have always been a part of the video game experience, but usually they were based on the time you had put into a game. You were rewarded by advancing to certain levels with enhanced abilities or weaponry.
But now that the video games are so massive, with huge worlds, challenges and obstacles, they take days to complete, getting a power up through a loot box is a short cut at a reasonable price.
There are countless examples from the last decade of this concept. SimCity Buildit lets players pay small amounts to help with construction. Counter-Strike lets players buy a sealed weapons case. You can buy more turns on Toy Blast.
In some cases, the concept has gotten out of control. Star Wars: Battlefront II was so full of loot boxes/microtransactions that the game was panned by fans and critics. Electronic Arts had to revise the game.
It’s Where the Money Is
The reason for putting so many loot boxes and microtransactions inside of a video game is clear for the developers. It’s a way to squeeze more money out of fans. It’s like Taylor Swift putting out a second version of the same album. She knows her fans will pay for it.
Just like the video game developers known Fortnite fans have already bought in and they will pay more to improve their game performance, same for sports gamers.
That’s an eerie parallel to a player standing at a slot machine or roulette wheel. You’re already playing, so you rationalize spending more than you should.
Research shows that the video game industry picked up a cool $30 billion from loot boxes in 2018. Broken down further and the bulk of that came from a smaller number of players, called “whales” who are the hardcore addicts who spend a lot on in-game purchases. These people are also known as “completionists” in the video game community. Players who finish every side quest or challenge in a game no matter the cost.
Loot To Bankrupt
Further research shows that loot boxes and gambling demonstrate similar styles of behavior. A survey of adolescents by Central Queensland University found that the majority of top video games had loot box characteristics, and the average 12–17-year-old had spent $50 per month on loot boxes. Older players had spent even more.
It could just be that video game players recognize that loot boxes and microtransactions are just another part of playing the game, but it could also be making them more susceptible to addictive gambling behavior down the line.
Parents are encouraged to establish settings that limit purchase powers by kids on their devices and use resources like state-run therapy helplines if their child’s behavior becomes troublesome.