Most video game player hate loot boxes with a passion. Gambling does not have a place in video games, right? Random chance, sure, exclusive items, of course, but the outright act of paying money for the opportunity to earn the above? Most gamers say “no, thank you” but that’s a paradigm that is shifting. It has also gained the attention of lawmakers across the United States. Loot boxes are almost part and parcel with any modern video game, but are they the best thing for the industry at large? Are they good for children and young adults that game?
Hawaiian legislator Chris Lee shares gamers’ ire for loot boxes. So much so, he wants to see change on the part of game makers according to a report from Ars Technica.
With the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy still at the forefront of most gamers’ minds, the scandal surrounding loot boxes is so strong that it can even cripple a game’s launch.
Keeping things fair in video games that use loot boxes
When gamers aren’t happy, nobody is happy, but Lee is one of many lawmakers to question whether or not loot boxes are legal.
The chance element inherent in loot boxes makes it similar to gambling although no monetary prize is accrued. Sometimes virtual items can be sold online, but this is not always the case. Lee thinks that game makers know what is going on, and he thinks it should stop. Just last month, Lee introduced legislation in Hawaii to regulate games with loot boxes, an industry first.
At a press conference announcing his planned legislation, Lee called loot boxes predatory. He highlighted the expensive nature of most loot boxes when taken to the extreme. Lee is also not naive about why loot boxes are being implemented. Lee said, “We know inside the development process for many of these games that there are clear and deliberate decisions being made to employ these kinds of mechanisms with the full knowledge of the effects they can have…That’s made obvious by kinds of people who have been employed, including psychologists and other sorts of experts.”
He continued, “This issue is not about regulating content or speech or anything like that…It’s about protecting public health when there is unquestionably a significant impact, particularly on children and youth. As elected leaders, we clearly have an obligation to prevent an industry from exploiting people.”
Previous attempts at regulating the video games industry
While video games are no stranger to regulation, the type of guidance needed was typically of the content and experiential variety, not anything monetarily associated with the video game business. The controversy around loot boxes marks a shift in the dialogue around video games. For the first time in recent memory, people are beginning to question how gaming companies make money.
Notice there is little to no discussion about the morality of a game featuring a loot box. Similar to gambling in spirit but totally different in practice, loot boxes have risen to prominence in the gaming industry due to increasingly tight margins on blockbuster titles.
Chasing profit margins with loot boxes
As compared with the fat, healthy margins publishers typically find with mobile games (where loot boxes got their genesis), console games are not as profitable. Whether or not the trend continues into the future may depend in large part on whether or not gamers are ever willing to pay large sums of money for smartphone and mobile games. Traditional publishers are turning their attention towards smartphone and mobile gaming sector of the industry in order to generate greater revenues.
If gamers are suddenly comfortable with paying retail prices for mobile games, which already have a baked-in lower budget than triple-AAA console and PC titles, then the need for loot boxes may diminish somewhat. Perhaps just raising their voices in protest is enough to derail even the slickest of marketing machines.