Loot boxes, prize crates, treasure chests and gift boxes have been a part of online gaming for a while now and most players take them entirely for granted. Most often, these chests are either found or gifted as a player progresses through the game. However, there is also the option to purchase these types of boxes for a small fee.
The boxes normally don’t contain items that are essential to progress in the game or finish the game but they can make playing more exciting and can assist in completing the game faster. The disadvantage is that the gamer never knows what is inside the loot box and whether it will be of any value to them.
Recently, these loot boxes have come under fire and have been compared to online gambling. The main controversy seems to be aimed at Overwatch which was released in 2016. Other games that have similar random loot box features that require payment include Halo 5, Gears of War 4 and, at launch, Star Wars Battlefront II though a backlash caused this element to be removed.
While some gamers may laugh this off as entirely absurd, there are some very real similarities between online gambling and paying for loot boxes. Games using this strategy to eke out small amounts of money from players are in fact breaking the rules and even some laws regarding online gambling.
So how are loot boxes the same as online gambling:
An Element Of Chance
Part of the legal definition for online gambling is that there must be an element of chance that exists to win or lose money or specific items. Due to the fact that loot boxes contain randomized items, they are in fact fulfilling this part of the legal definition of chance in online gambling. Game developers are saying that what is contained inside the box is beside the point as the box is being purchased and not the items inside the box.
Online gambling must also involve some form of monetary payment or bet in order to play the game of chance. Loot boxes also require a monetary payment which means that it fulfills another important part of the definition of online gambling. However, there is a loophole that games are using to bypass this factor in that they are calling it a purchase of a loot box rather than a bet or payment for a chance to win which is what occurs in online gambling.
It is also important to determine the value of an item or prize that is received from loot boxes vs. those received in online gambling. Gambling normally results in the chance of winning a physical reward whereas loot boxes provide only virtual rewards. The question is as to whether these virtual rewards have value and the extent of the value that can be assigned to them. While it can be argued that loot boxes do have actual value as real money is being paid for them, this is not the current stance of the UK Gambling Commission. They are of the mind that no actual value can be assigned to loot boxes and therefore this feature of a game cannot be considered to be online gambling.
These are the three main elements that define online gambling. Whether or not loot boxes do fulfill these criteria is yet to be legally determined. There are however additional similarities between the two that is the cause of loot boxes in gaming attracting so much attention.
Just like drugs and alcohol, gambling can be extremely addictive. The process of betting and winning releases dopamine and endorphins in the brain which are mood enhancers and pain killers respectively. These brain chemicals are what results in the addiction.
“Purchasing” loot boxes is incredibly exciting and releases the same chemicals in the brain and is therefore just as addictive similar to gambling. There are literally hundreds of stories of adults spending thousands of Pounds to acquire loot boxes and children just about bankrupting their parents with their purchases.
While the similarities between online gambling and loot boxes are undeniable, there is still much debate as to whether they should be defined as online gambling. Over 60% of the British population currently agree that loot boxes should be defined as online gambling. In the States, Senator Josh Hawley has introduced a bill to protect under 18s from features like loot boxes and it may be inevitable that loot boxes are defined as online gambling in the future to bring them into line with age limits.
So why should one be allowed but not the other?
The problem isn’t with gambling in itself, as there are many reputable gambling sites that can be found online and are responsibly enjoyed by people all around the world. If you’re interested in online gambling and casinos, bestslots.co.uk is a great place to start.
The problem with loot boxes is in the classification. It might seem silly to point out but online gambling, being defined and classified as “online gambling” subjects it to very strict rules and regulations in order to address addiction, under-age gambling and many other legal and social issues. If loot boxes are in fact a form of gambling but aren’t legally classified as “online gambling”, then they avoid all the safeguards and regulations that properly inform their players, allowing them to make an educated and well-informed choice.