Loot boxes are one of the most common additions to modern games. Almost every release on the market features some form of loot box mechanic. This has caused parents and regulators to wonder how loot boxes affect gamers, and if they can actually be considered a form of gambling. Many people believe that loot boxes stimulate the same feelings as gambling except without the benefits of playing at online casinos.
So, what is the truth about loot boxes and how do they differ from video slots?
What do Loot Boxes do?
Loot boxes basically give players a chance to win a reward that has the potential to impact their game in one way or another. Sometimes, it could be through a gameplay enhancement, while in others the change could be just an aesthetic enhancement. What they all retain, though, is an element of randomness. With a loot box, you never know what you are going to get. You also have to open them using in-game currencies.
For most players, the line blurs when in-game currency can be bought with real-life currency. This leads many campaigners to feel that loot boxes are just another form of gambling. Even the more mild campaigners against loot boxes believe that they instill the rush of gambling in players at an early age. This could lead to gambling addiction becoming much more common in the future, as players have been exposed to it at a much younger age.
While for free-to-play games, loot boxes might be seen as a small trade-off for having the flexibility to play the game free of charge. However, for games that have to be bought, many people feel that the addition of loot boxes is pure greed on the part of the developers. Star Wars Battlefront II, for example, was one specific example: the loot box mechanic came under fire soon after release, before being removed within a short period of time.
How do Loot Boxes Relate to Slots?
The main way in which loot boxes are similar to slots is the random nature of awarding prizes. So, players open the loot boxes with no idea what will be revealed. This is the same with a video slot: when the reels spin, players don’t know what symbols will land on them. It’s a gamble each time, and this releases the same chemicals into the brain. Players experience the same levels of elation or disappointment when they see what’s in the loot box.
The big difference between the two is that a loot box offers no financial reward. So, while a video slot provides players with a tangible chance of receiving a financial return, a loot box will give you nothing of value outside of the game you are playing. That means that, even though you could put the same level of investment into loot boxes and slots, you are guaranteed to come away without a return on that investment with loot boxes.
Obviously, slots offer the opportunity to walk away with a profit. This is why loot boxes are often seen as being so dangerous. They inspire similar levels of addiction in players, but there is no chance of ever getting a return on the money spent on them. Players are guaranteed to be losing their money with loot boxes.
This mechanic powering loot boxes has led to many calling for reform, and for regulations to be applied to them.
Regulations to be Applied
As the mathematical algorithms that underpin loot boxes are very similar to those behind slot machines, there have been calls from lawmakers for loot boxes to be classified under relevant gambling acts. A good example of this would be the House of Lords in the UK, which has called for the instant regulation of loot boxes.
The main reason usually given for the regulation is that loot boxes are essentially a game of chance that requires money to play. While there is no financial prize on offer, a degree of financial input is still required to take part.
However, due to some technicalities and loopholes, loot boxes have managed to avoid regulation up to this point. Some campaigners have called for consumer care acts to be used whenever and wherever loot boxes are available. This will look at how loot boxes are advertised and require companies to be more transparent about the way in which loot boxes operate.
If this is passed, it will mean that game developers will either have to be more open with how their loot boxes work or decide to change how they operate them. One suggested method is to allow players to purchase specific in-game items. While this would still require financial investments from players, the process would be much more open. Players could pay a single one-time fee to unlock the item that they want and use it as required in the game.
Whether this mechanic will actually be used remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that loot boxes could be changing in the near future.