The gaming industry is one of the most rapidly growing sectors around the world. Once a very narrow niche has become a global market with billions in revenue. The estimates state that the size of the industry will reach $300 billion by 2025, which is more than the nominal gross domestic product of Portugal or Finland.
Video games were not always as profitable or advanced. The reason why the money circulation within it is soaring lays in technological development. The past few decades witnessed an unprecedented transformation of everything we now use on a daily basis. From smartphones to smartwatches and bands, all of these experienced a change. The world of technology is changing so fast, that some traditional industries are even struggling to keep up with it.
Fortunately, video games are not one of such. This is the field directly related to technology and its evolution. Thus, the immense expansion of technological capabilities furthered possibilities for game developers. They create and release video games with better stories, graphics and broader maps.
The rise of the internet has also significantly contributed to the industry’s enlargement. As the worldwide web spread across the globe, more and more multiplayer online games started to be released. This process importantly expanded the community, enrolling millions into it within a short period of time. As a result, major gaming tournaments are now organized many times each year. The prize pool sometimes stands at millions of dollars.
However, the year 2017 was a turning point for the industry. The mass introduction of loot boxes in various prominent video games caused widespread controversy, making headlines around the world.
What are the loot boxes?
They are digital, in-game grab boxes, which can be purchased by players. Once you get it, no one knows what is inside of it, until it has been opened. Different games offer varying prizes hidden inside of loot boxes, but odds of getting something valuable are not known.
The thing that sparked such a massive wave of criticism is that loot boxes can not always be bought with the unreal, digital money collected while playing a game. They often cost real money, resulting in increased spendings by many underaged players around the world.
Such reward boxes or sets were a thing before as well. However, they never cost real money neither influenced the gaming experience for players. The first cases of developers attempting to make money out of loot boxes emerged just a few years ago. For example, Blizzard’s 2016 release Overwatch features loot boxes. However, the items that are hidden in them are purely superficial. Players might get costumes, avatars or voice lines from them. Yet, it is impossible to choose for which character a player wants to get a reward in prior, thus, they might end up being useless or simply undesired. However, none of the above-listed influences the gameplay itself.
This brings us to another point of controversy. As games after Overwatch started to feature more and more loot boxes, some of them came with the items that improved the abilities of characters. Concerns arose within the gaming community that loot boxes were making games easier for those, who can afford purchasing multiple. As the odds of getting something valuable are not publicly declared by developing companies, more of them the players buy the bigger the chance of getting something useful is.
So what drives the hatred against them and who is behind it?
As mentioned earlier in the article, loot boxes caused controversy in two primary ways. Let’s discuss the advantage they give to certain players first. The biggest outrage about the issue was caused by Battlefront 2. The game features loot boxes that often help players advance their characters and improve abilities. Many members of the community candidly asserted that Battlefront 2, in simplest terms, forced them to spend money on a gambling-alike activity to simply enjoy the game.
The next point is directly related to gambling. Many now believe that games like Battlefront 2 are casinos in video games. They do clearly have a point. When a player purchases a loot box for real money, they have no idea what is hidden inside of it. They might get something useless, giving them an incentive to purchase one again, trying their luck out. The principle pretty much replicates the phenomenon of actual gambling and the way it works.
A good example is the gambling industry in Australia, which is rapidly growing. It is quickly increasing its contribution to the nation’s economy. The thing is that the majority of people who play online slots Australia are foreigners, often repeating the pattern of how they start and proceed with internet gambling. The pattern is similar in the case of loot boxes, however, unlike with gambling, rewards in gaming can not be financially profitable in any way.
Entertainment Software Rating Board which (ESRB) is the US age rating body for content, including video games. They also decide whether a particular product is sexually inappropriate or not. The 2017 decision kept loot boxes out of the gambling category, but a lot has changed ever since.
As more games introduced paid loot boxes, parents along with members of the gaming community arose further concerns. Underaged players are actively purchasing loot boxes, often without consent from their legal guardians. This has become particularly problematic with games like Battlefront 2. There is a popular BBC story on how a kid spent over £3000 on video games.
Legislation and the future of loot boxes
More and more people raise the issue of the legality of loot boxes. Many say that regulation is certainly needed. A member of the Democratic party at the Hawaii House of Representatives, Chris Lee commented on loot boxes as predatory practices, calling battlefront 2 “a Star Wars-themed online casino”. He is putting his best efforts into resolving the issue. Lee believes that loot boxes should be outlawed, however, he also is aware of the difficulty of achieving a nation-wide ban. Thus, at this point, he is the Hawaii democrat who is trying to ban them in his State.
Belgium took the movement to another level, as the national gambling authority declared loot boxes a kind of gambling. They said that such boxes are addictive, giving an incentive to young people to spend money, which often does not even belong to them.
Despite the increasing opposition against loot boxes, they remain present. However, an increasing number of influential individuals and companies voice opinions about them. The Fortnite boss stated that in his belief, loot boxes cause harm to people. This is yet one of the loudest statements about the issue from representatives of the gaming industry.
After all, developing companies, publishers put lots of money into making enjoyable video games. They naturally need good profit, returning the spendings effectively. Game sales are no longer enough to sustain the growing industry and as a result, companies turned to loot boxes. No one knows what the future will bring to them, but the current situation certainly needs to be addressed from all sides of the argument.