Hello readers, I hope everyone is staying sane during the election. I wanted to take a break from thinking about red and blue and instead focus on green. In this case, green is money and I want to focus on the dangers of loot boxes. For those who are not sure what a loot box is, here is a general definition. A loot box is a way to gain content by paying, either in virtual currency or real world currency, for a box that gives items at random.
In a previous column I showed some math involving cost and potential rewards with games and microtransactions. I’m going to be upfront with you all, I am not going to break down the convoluted math with loot boxes and the odds of getting premium items, plus it differs from game to game.
Here is what you need to know: most games charge a small amount of money for a relatively small chance to get an item you want. Now I know I have discussed microtransactions ad nauseum before, but I’m going a different direction with this column.
Loot boxes are, simply put, profit earnings through veiled gambling. They force the player to deal with the element of chance to get better items. Now, there are some people who do have a tendency to get addicted to gambling and it is at this point that this goes from annoying to dangerous. A study by Prelec and Simester showed that people spent 100% more when using credit cards instead of cash.
This loot box system is primarily seen in freemium mobile games. For example, I played a game called AFK Arena for a little bit. There were additional purchase packs that would give virtual currency and a random hero. People who play these games usually end up needing a certain hero so they reach a point where they just keep hitting buy to try and win their hero. It got so bad that my home state of Ohio made a PSA about how this system can affect gamblers and teach children to gamble.
Yes, children and teenagers are not immune to this.
If you are wondering why kids would learn to gamble, just think about it. Kids normally don’t understand money or they spend money that is not theirs to spend. They click the button and then get cool stuff in the game. This could get kids hooked on to the short term gratification of getting random stuff from the boxes. It’s important to understand how younger gamers, yes even teenagers, are affected by these practices.
There is an argument to be made about freemium games needing microtransactions to counterbalance the game being offered for free. However, we need to understand the long term consequences for implementation of these business practices. This is especially true since AAA games are starting to adopt this feature as a way to implement a so-called pay-to-win system.
Remember, if you or someone you know has gambling issues there are resources available to help. Make sure that you research a title before you buy or even download it to ensure it’s not reliant on loot boxes or other lottery like systems to win. Or, if you do elect to play a game with loot boxes, be sure that you know what you are getting into and are not going to be prone to addictive tendencies. We want everyone to play safely, have fun, and not pick up any bad habits.
As always, stay safe and remember that no matter your political party, always vote for video games.