As a responsible adult, if you want to play games online with the chance of winning real money, you’re best off going to the best casinos USA. But many feel that the use of loot boxes in video games is encouraging unwitting gambling in children and young people, as well as potentially harming their health.
What is a loot box?
A loot box is a virtual item, often a treasure chest or something similar, that can be acquired by players in a video game. Although the item only exists in the game world, it has to be paid for with real money. The way this is done can vary: the loot box may be purchased directly, either with a credit card or (more commonly) by using virtual in-game currency. However, this in-game currency has generally been purchased using real money at an earlier stage. Alternatively, the loot box may be a reward for completing an action or quest, or discovered randomly, but can only be activated by the purchase of a key, which again requires real or virtual (paid for) money.
What does a loot box do?
The appeal of a loot box is that the player never knows what is inside. Once it is redeemed, opened, or activated, it will reveal some randomly selected items. The moment of opening will generally be quite spectacular in its own right. The items may help the player in the game if they are tools or weapons. They may also convey perks or bonuses, such as extra lives or stamina points. They may give you access to new characters for your team, and they may include “skins” that let you customize or change the appearance of your character. Although skins may not improve your chances of winning the game, they are often highly sought after, and frequently traded between players on a semi-legal “grey market.”
Why are they so popular?
Loot boxes started to appear in the early 2000s but became more widespread about five years ago. They spread from massively multiplayer online role-playing games to Battle Royale and first-person shooter games, as well as sports games like Madden and FIFA. For developers, they are a way to monetize free-to-play games, or to generate extra revenue in best-selling video games. The industry made over $30bn from loot boxes in 2018 alone, so it seems likely that they’re here to stay.
The problem with loot boxes
Critics say that loot boxes promote gambling by stealth. Unlike other in-game purchases, known as micro-transactions, loot boxes are randomized so that you never know precisely what you might get for your money. The items might be duplicates of ones you already own, or useless to your present situation. Far from deterring players, however, this element of chance only adds to the appeal of loot boxes. Psychologists have found that this randomness is more addictive than a predictable outcome. After all, you just might get an extremely rare and sought-after skin, or the magic weapon that will help you win the game. If you don’t pay for the box, you’ll never know.
The concern is that young people are spending significant amounts of real money on loot boxes and are also playing the games for far longer than they should, to the detriment of their physical and mental health. The use of virtual currencies can be confusing, as it’s easy to forget how much you’re spending in real terms. While total immersion in the game world is part of the appeal, these purchases also have real-world consequences.
How can developers use loot boxes responsibly?
One way for the boxes to be implemented more ethically would be to remove the chance of players buying items they already have. The contents would still be random, but it would be easy for the program to take the player’s inventory into account and exclude already-owned items.
Another suggestion has been to be more precise about the real-world cost. Games should avoid having multiple virtual currencies and should make the exchange rate between virtual currency and real-world currency more straightforward. If one gold piece equals one dollar, then players would have a better idea of how much they were spending.
Setting spending limits is also a valid proposal. Sony and Microsoft already let players voluntarily set limits on their accounts, but an official maximum limit could also be imposed from above. Loot box warnings could also be added to games, with clear information about whether further in-game purchases are necessary to complete the game. Ideally, loot box purchases should not be essential to finish a game but should be an optional add-on. If they are a necessary part of the game, then it should be possible to acquire them without real-money spending, for instance, by completing a difficult mission (though buying them could still be an option).
However one feels about loot boxes; it’s clear that they are now an integral part of the gaming landscape. Transparency, clarity, and openness to an ongoing discussion are the keys to implementing them responsibly and ethically in the future.