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The Age of the Loot Box: Are Video Games Making Money off Encouraging Children to Gamble?

The Age of the Loot Box: Are Video Games Making Money off Encouraging Children to Gamble?

If you’ve been even somewhat involved in the rapidly advancing world of video gaming in recent year, you are undoubtedly aware, and perhaps disgusted, by the now endemic ‘loot crate’ concept. But for those of you who’s only engagement with the industry is hearing your kid shriek at the TV in the next room, or who have just been busy being more productive and successful than myself, here is what’s going on.

Video Games have rapidly nearly all moved towards the concept of randomized rewards given once a player has obtained a certain amount of ‘XP’ or similar in-game currency or advancement. These rewards are bestowed upon wide-eyed players in flashy shows of dopamine inducing thrill as they open some form of container holding a reward pulled from a list of possible ones with varying rarities (and thus the probability of getting pulled).

These crates generally don’t offer tools to win the game or beat down other players, i.e., they don’t offer anything that can make you better. Gamers by and large deplore such practices and call games that engage in them P2W (or pay to win) implying all that’s required to excel is to buy tons of crates. Rather most loot crates only offer cosmetic enhancements like character and weapon ‘skins’, clothes for your avatar, etc. 

Hmm, what’s that? Yes of course you can buy them silly! And really that’s the problem.

Gamers who would rather not expend countless hours in pursuit of fleshing out their costume collection can always buy loot crates in varying quantities, with games usually offering up to $100+ deals for mountains of nifty virtual boxes to whoever’s holding the controller be it a 30-year-old or a 12-year-old. Sometimes the 30-year-old is more concerning…

The rub is loot boxes work pretty much the same way as a slot machine, offering a menu of increasingly statistically unlikely awards for each spin. You have a terrible chance of getting 777 (a coveted player skin etc.) and so forth. 

Video Game companies vigorously argue that this isn’t the case since loot crates always result in *some reward* (unlike slots that will most likely leave you hanging on each spin) even if only of common rarity and that since the rewards are not monetary (and theoretically cannot be exchanged for money) they’re a far cry from what happens in Vegas. 

But the world is increasingly deciding otherwise.

Belgium in late April was the first country to officially denounce the practices as gambling, with the Minister of Justice Koen Geens releasing a statement that the Belgian gaming commission would now target the likes of Overwatch and Counterstrike, games notorious for their loot box practices.

Geens released a statement declaring, “there is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game” as well as the presence of an, “emotional profit forecast [where gamers] buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be.” This merited legal classification of games of chance and thus the associated penalties.

Belgium doesn’t appear to be alone. Videos of US Hawaiian state Rep Chris Lee offering impassioned support have become popular online. British gaming site VentureBeat reports 60% of respondents in Britain to believe the practices to be gambling and polls, something echoed by findings of peers like Eurogamer and eSportobserver.

With the practice becoming only more prevalent and egregious across the industry will the US soon follow Belgium? Maybe heavy-handed state regulation isn’t the solution, but regardless the answer to the question posed at the article start from anyone watching with common sense is a resounding 

Yes. Yes, they are.

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