Over the last few years, Loot Boxes have an increasing presence in video games. Their ever growing presence has created a stir both with gamers, and in some areas of the world with governments. Some make the argument that the people that buy these are paying to win, and maybe in some cases people are. Others see them as part of the games as a service business model and want to continue to support a developer to continue producing content for a game they enjoy. Personally, I am completely fine with Loot Boxes and in game purchases but think that there needs to be industry standards in their promotion and sales.
The first game I remember playing where players could get in game items that were randomized was Madden 2002 on the Nintendo GameCube. Players could get packs of cards that contained boosters or Hall of Fame players to add to your franchises roster. I happened to be lucky enough to get Barry Sanders and add him to the Rams roster with Marshall Faulk (what a backfield)! Other games allow players to earn boxes or pay for them if they like. Other games such as Overwatch only have cosmetic items so gameplay isn’t really effected at all. I haven’t seen or heard of anyone really complaining about these or asking for their regulation.
The recent discussion around Loot Boxes is with games where players either can skip over grinding out good items through long hours of play, or in some cases certain items are only available if the player spends additional funds. Either way, I don’t see it as an issue if someone wants to spend money to purchase items for use in a game. If someone truly enjoys playing a game and wants to pay for items that is their prerogative. Over the last year, I have been playing Star Trek Online and have purchased several ships and keys to open Loot Boxes. The way I see it is 1) I am a huge Star Trek fan (one of my two cats is named Sisko) and I thoroughly enjoy the game, and 2) the game is free to play and the developers continue to release free content. Star Trek Online also takes the system one step further by awarding player Lobi Crystals anytime they open a box and don’t receive a Tier 6 (the highest there is) ship. With enough of these crystals, the player can then buy a ship from an in-game vendor. I understand my purchases help pay for more content. Without the collective purchases, the developers of these games won’t make a profit and they will shut games down. I like to compare it to making dinner at home versus eating dinner at your favorite restaurant. If people stop buying meals from the local eateries, they will close. What I do have issue with is when the drop chances for Loot Boxes are not posted by developers. Tell me what my odds are for getting ‘X’ so i can make an informed decision regarding my purchases.
I don’t see paying for Loot Boxes as gambling. The main difference is that with gambling you can win actual money that can supplement or replace income. The winnings from gambling being seen as income makes them taxable. I am not going to be taxed for my Tier 6 ship, wildly painted machine gun, or new catch phrase I got in a video game box. I do also get that gambling, for some people, is an addiction. But is opening a digital loot box that different than say a pack of baseball cards? Please note, I am not trying to get into a political debate here, but I am just stating that is where I see the difference. If you don’t want to buy them, you don’t have to, but you also shouldn’t bash someone who does want to pay for them. I think the video game industry can make great strides to self police these loot systems. If the industry doesn’t, fans will. This was proven recently in the case of Star Wars: Battlefront II, where fans made their distaste of the Loot Box system EA had implemented well known forcing EA to abandon it to mostly cosmetic items. I think a good start will be for developers to publically post item drop odds, though I suspect they don’t because people will complain when they don’t get ‘X’ despite opening the amount they would need to based on odds. This debate will go on for quite some time I am sure, Maybe there is no “right” answer here but these don’t appear to be going away any time soon. In fact, as the ‘Games as a Service’ model continues to grow, I think these will become more and more commonplace. What are your thoughts on Loot Boxes?