Science & Tech

Gaming and Loot Boxes: What is Gambling Anyway?

If you’re a gamer, or in any way afflicted with gaming, you may have heard the words loot boxes and gambling a lot recently. In fact, you may have heard a lot of consumers scream GAMBLING at publishers while the publishers and rating boards screamed NOT AT ALL GAMBLING back at them.

But what’s true then? Is it gambling when you are paying money to receive randomized in-game prices? In a way, yes. Is it as bad as high stakes poker? Probably not. Is it highly deplorable to try luring money out of people’s pockets after they already paid to play the entirety of a game? It probably is.

The problem here is not gambling though, even though it’s at the forefront of every argument around this gaming topic. Kids and teenagers being subjected to profoundly harmful gambling schemes well hidden in the most renowned gaming franchises. Well, they are not hidden, because that would defeat their primary purpose, which is maximizing profits. The problem here is not gambling. It never was, it never will be. The specific problem here is the apparent disconnect between business decisions and consumer expectations, making extra money on the side.

Gambling Gaming Greed

Why is gambling not the problem here? Because, to be fairly honest, the whole loot box gambling scandal just harks back to the fact that consumers don’t want to pay extra when they already bought a product. And that’s perfectly reasonable. The entire problem doesn’t rest on the gambling though, but on the fact that money is required to access parts of a product you already paid for. The practice has been around for years. Initially, it was mainly found in mobile games, but we have seen several implementations in fully priced gaming titles as well, and it just keeps increasing.

So in a way, it’s good that we have the discussion. Apparent problems and the inability to understand and cater to consumers needs to be addressed. It was only a matter of time until one gaming company would go a step too far in implementing paywalls in their games. Electronic Arts was that game company and faced a huge backlash over loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2. Something that even caused emotional (and hilarious) responses from intoxicated business partners at awards shows.

The whole loot box idea, which is now branded as highly addictive gambling, has been around for ages. And I do you one better, it’s frequently used outside of gaming as well. Ever bought a pack of Pokémon Cards back in the day? Spending money on randomised card packs on the off chance you may get something valuable. That’s just as much of a gambling scheme as loot boxes are. Yes it’s gambling, but it’s socially acceptable gambling – unless you feel cheated out of your money or overcharged – then it’s a major problem all of a sudden.

Gambling is Part of our Lives

Gambling is a highly addictive practice that has to be reckoned with. However, it has become an integral part of our lives. Simply for the fact that it makes corporations more money. Buying randomised products in any shape or form maximises the output. One could even argue that gambling is an integral part of human behavior – making wagers along the way. It’s the high stakes, addictive and potentially existence-threatening gambling we usually shrug upon. Loot boxes in gaming aren’t comparable to that, to be honest. It’s a variety of the aforementioned card pack money making trick. Yes, strictly speaking, it’s gambling. But is that the issue here? Mostly not.

The issue quite frankly is locking content you expect to be included, hiding it behind a paywall. There are instances where so-called in-App or in-game purchases have produced quite a bill, and I am not defending those. All I am saying is that issues cannot be fixed when they’re not properly addressed. The main issue here is not the gambling through loot boxes in gaming – it’s the fact of hiding game content behind paywalls in any shape or form.

It’s a consumer’s right to oppose and boycott – and it naturally is anyone’s right to oppose the loot box system because at its very roots it is a form of gambling, yes. But don’t mix the two when you are just bothered by the fact that you have to shell out extra bucks on something you already bought.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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