Loot boxes. What. Why. Worrying?
Loot boxes have been in the press of late. Here’s our thoughts.
What? Loot boxes are ‘in game items’ that are acquired through the purchase of a chance to win one. Here’s an example. In World of Tanks, I can purchase, with real money, a box which might have inside it a new and exciting Tank. Or it might have something else inside. It’s a gamble. Or in the football game FIFA I can purchase a pack of players, without knowing who they are or how good they are. It’s a gamble.
Or is it? Well that depends on where you are, the legislation in your country or state, your definition of gambling. It’s another one of those. An old idea (gambling online) gets embedded in a creative way into a digital sector that is generally considered to be ‘art’, that being video games. And now the ‘rules’ are unclear and open to interpretation. Belgium has banned them, the US is doing the usual free speech vs regulation thing, and Australia is having a proper look at it. Here in the UK we haven’t got time to think about anything that isn’t Brexit right now, so it’ll be in the long grass somewhere.
The video game industry is being creative and making things up as it goes along, they know it’s in their own interest to find the balance between making money and not drawing excessive adversity in the form of bad press or invasive regulation. It’s self policing. Mostly successfully.
However, it is just another thing to add to the increasing list of stuff that’s bad for kids online. Loot boxes may or may not be technically and legally gambling. They do however use the same psychological mechanisms as gambling systems. They press the same addictive risk and reward buttons. They introduce, encourage, and enforce a certain mentality.
By targeting children with these systems within a context of highly engaged play it is quite possible they are creating problem gamblers in waiting. It seems to appeal the the child’s innate sense of chance in life. Will they get this or that reward, or present? A child’s life is full of such expectancies and unknowns, it’s part of the fun, and part of the simple fact that children don’t tend to have the agency to make their own descisions anyway.
Ethically, it’s opaque. I don’t have the answer, it’s just another thing we do to kids for our own benefit without really understanding the impact we have on them. It’s like candy cigarettes.
It’s the mystery of life.
It’s all a loot box, is it not?