Surpris3!: The Complicated Issue of Loot Boxes

During a meeting with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, EA referred to its loot box system as “surprise mechanics”. They defended it by comparing it to a Kinder Surprise chocolate. Before discussing EA’s stance, it is important to provide my best interpretation of what a loot box is. Having a reference to my definition provides context for those unfamiliar. It also allows for better understanding about why my stance is the way it is. My personal definition of a loot box is “a set in-game mechanic that exchanges game/real world currency for the chance at receiving game enhancing or cosmetic items”. Defining loot boxes is a tricky matter due to the various complex ways its used in video games.

EA justifying their usage of loot boxes through Kinder surprise eggs is laughable. Especially given the track record they’ve had as of late with games like Star Wars Battlefront 2. My issue is the fact that these mechanics walking a fine a line in creating a gambling like addiction. I wouldn’t have as much of a issue if children weren’t some of the demographics playing these games. Early exposure to these kind of mechanics could promote unhealthy behaviors.

Now my stances is not for the complete dismissal of loot boxes given that loot boxes can work in gaming. But many notable franchises (Madden, Fifa) loot box systems promotes a “pay-to-win” strategy. “Pay-to-win” is a strategy of using real world currency to buy better equipment or players. People with disposable income can gain unfair advantages over others using this strategy. Games with this strategy make collecting in-game currency tedious. Players looking to enjoy the game run the risk of getting out played by those who bought loot boxes/packs. This frustration could then influence others towards making purchases with money. Given there is also no guarantee of receiving the items you want, you’re taking a chance like slots. At casinos the experience is a spectacle. Images of confetti and bright colors play tricks on your mind to promote enjoyment. The same ways these things can hypnotize adults is the same way it could effect children. These could have more of an effect on children given they don’t realize the subtle influence these images can have.

The industry must do a better job of regulating these practices. It has reached the attention of the US congress with “The Protect Children from Abusive Games Act”. Government intervention might be a necessary means to protect gamers. My concern is relying on individuals who are not within the video game industry to make rules for gaming. Given they don’t have the expertise on how the industry works it could cause bigger problems. What do you think? Do you believe government intervention is necessary? What is your stance on loot boxes in general? Let me know in the comments below!

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Vinny Lodi

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