loot boxes and why there’s controversy around them


loot boxes and why there’s controversy around them

In: Technology

Paid loot boxes are a gambling mechanic, and a lot of people don’t like gambling.

Especially in games aimed at children.

Boxes of in game stuffs, usually skins or weapons or whatever. Usually highly over priced and extremely overrated. Basically, cash grab for game makers.

First off, regardless of their legal status, they’re usually shitty game design. They promote pay-to-win features that disadvantage players who don’t want to pay more.

The legal based argument is essentially that there is:

A) Because they significantly affect gameplay and competitive chances, the prizes have value, and different prizes have different value. This makes them gambling.

B) Because there is a secondary market for lootboot prizes, they are basically just gambling with extra steps.


I know this is super unpopular on reddit, but my personal $0.02 is that they shouldn’t be restricted by legal means. Lootboxes are generally quite shitty, but if a game relies on them then just don’t buy that game. Spread the word to your friends to ignore it. There are actions between “support something” and “demand something be made illegal”. It is very strange to see groups that position themselves as pro-personal responsibility and small government aligning with legal action against loot boxes.

Basically you’re paying for a chance to win something. At the time of purchase you don’t know what that something is and it can be really good or really not. This, in essence, is gambling. And since it applies to video games these purchases are usually tailored to and directed at children. That is the basics of the issue. Targeted gambling opportunities to kids.

A loot box is basically just a virtual box that you open and then get something from, but you don’t know what you will get. For example in a game like Overwatch you can open a loot box and it might give you a character skin, emotes, voice lines etc.

Essentially, a loot box in itself is not controversial, it is basically just randomly generated loot (RNG). This is not much different from many games where you might defeat a boss and get a random item.

The controversial aspect comes from many games allowing you to spend real life money to gain loot boxes. Now suddenly you have a system where you pay money in order for a chance to get something, but you don’t know what you will get. This is basically the definition of gambling. Gambling (and particular online gambling) have a lot of laws and restrictions. The thing is, loot boxes are not affected by this. The debate now is around whether or not loot boxes should be under the same restrictions as other forms of gambling. Companies such as EA tries to say it is not the same and have recently, in court, defended it as being “surprise mechanics”, which really set fire to the debate. It should be noted that the loot box mechanic, when done with real life money, is by all definitions gambling. This is objective, the debate is about what we should then do about it.

Opposite of the companies are the gaming community. They generally do not like the idea of loot boxes. Their opinion comes from the logic that if you pay for a game you should not have to further gamble real life money to get the games full content, and not even be sure you get it when you pay.

Lastly, there are several “levels” of loot boxes. Overwatch is on the soft side where you can only get cosmetic upgrades. In other words, you gain no advantages whatsoever in the game. Furthermore you can perfectly well get all the content from just playing. Loot boxes are a part of the game and you just have the option to further buy extra. Then there are some companies that does the same thing, but make it so that it is very time consuming or almost impossible to get the full content from playing the game. So while it is there, in practise you have to buy loot boxes. Other games again have content you can *only* gain when paying.

Now, those are all just cosmetics, but some games will also have things that gives you advantages in games. This again can be things you technically can achieve in the game, but paying makes it easier – or in the worst cases it is things that are *only* obtainable by paying. This is usually referred to as ‘pay to win’ and is in general frowned upon in the gaming community. Adding the gambling aspect to pay to win makes for the most extreme form of loot box abuse.

So just to recap, loot boxes in themselves are not bad – it is when real money comes into play, and even then it also depends on how limited the content is for people that choose not to pay and what the actual content of the boxes is.