Welcome my control wielding warriors! Doogle here direct from Team Hamster HQ. In today’s blog I will be discussing the hottest topic in gaming at this time…Loot Boxes and Card Decks.
What’s all the fuss about?
So unless you have been living under a very big rug of late then no doubt you will have heard about the controversies that surround loot crates, boxes, decks etc. Well, things have well and truly kicked into overdrive about this mechanic, and the industry is now getting asked whether or not this can be construed as gambling.
Gambling! how so?
Let’s look at the evidence and what a loot box, crate or deck will give you and how you obtain these loot items. So firstly in most cases, you can use in-game currency to open loot boxes but the only downside is it requires copious amounts of hours played to get your dabs on the required amount to open a crate.
With me so far? Good, now this is where it gets sticky because if you don’t want to grind away to earn those in-game credits then you can dip into your wallet and use real money to buy the boxes, crates or decks.
Sounds OK so far right? well, it isn’t as straight forward as that because once you have surrendered your hard-earned money over you now have to hope you get what you wanted from the said loot dispensers and this is where the proverbial line becomes blurred. Because now you face a lottery of whether or not you’ll get the item you want or a piece of trash that you didn’t.
Most games offer cosmetic/vanity items for your character in-game such as a new weapon skin, a new outfit or even new emotes, that being said there are also some games that offer “game-changing” items that will give you an advantage over another player (we call these perks) and this is where the issue stems from.
For example, take EA’s smash hit game FIFA where they introduced the FIFA Ultimate Team where you can use FIFA points exchange for currency to open a randomly generated pack of cards.
These cards will have (if you are extremely lucky) a super rare card/player that you can then use in your team. In the case of FIFA you have to buy these points with real money now the most popular amount of points appears to be 4600 points pack, which will cost you roughly £31.99.
Yes, I kid you not £31.99 this is the equivalent to the cost of an average season-pass or even a lower end game on the current market.
After doing some digging you can easily blow those points in the blink of an eye as the higher tiered packs cost close to 2,000 points.
Surely that’s an exaggeration, right?
Unfortunately not, take the BBC’s recent report on a family’s children spending £550 in the space of three weeks via the Nintendo store and only finding out about it when they went to go shopping and found out because their card was declined, thankfully Nintendo saw sense and refunded the money back as well as taking back all the players that the purchases have given. The irony of all this incident was that they still didn’t get the player they wanted (Messi).
Granted it was discovered that the parents didn’t have any form of parental controls set up and so some of the blame has to go them as there are ways that you can prevent the accidental spending, that being said there are still ways you can get stung. This is where this loot crate concept/mechanic becomes scary and furthermore, gaming developers seem to be extremely unfazed by this.
In June 2019 Kerry Hopkins a Vice President of EA (electronic arts) defended the mechanic saying that there was nothing unethical about these loot boxes/decks and basically compared them to “Kinder-Eggs and the LOL Dolls”
As reported on the BBC news website Kerry was quoted as saying “We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics – and Fifa, of course, is our big one, our Fifa Ultimate Team and our packs – is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people,”
I fail to see how you can liken these toys and sweets to loot boxes after all with a LOL or Kinder Egg you are going to get what you expect… a TOY, but when it comes to loot boxes and FIFA FUT Cards you are expecting to get something special for all your hard work or real-life money that you’ve used to buy points.
There’s more too, a recent study carried out by Dr David Zendle from York St John University and Dr Paul Cairns from the University of York found links to gambling mechanics and problems in essence they found that loot box spending and problem gambling were closely related.
So what’s everyone doing about this?
Well not a whole lot, unless you are living in Belgium in which case they are now considered to be a violation of gambling legislation. This means that loot boxes that can be bought for real money must now be removed from video games in Belgium otherwise developers face hefty fines of £697,000 (or 800,000 Euros) and also a 5-year prison sentence for publishers.
So Belgium is taking a stand but at this time most other governments are reluctant to do anything as not enough research has been done to come up with a definitive answer on whether or not this can be construed as gambling.
But what if it does end up being classified as gambling what would that mean then?
This is where we step into the unknown, because if this becomes to be recognised as a form of gambling then any game (whether its rated PEGI 7 or PEGI 16) that has a loot box system would have to be rated as 18 (after all that’s the legal gambling age in most countries). With that being said we would also need to be wary of games sales as these would invariably take a massive hit due to this age rating increase.
A simple answer is to remove the “real money” element from the purchase and make it so in-game currency (through playing and grinding) is the only way to purchase the loot boxes.
That is one option or do away with loot boxes altogether after all you’ve paid £50+ for the damn game already so why should you have to splash even more cash out.
Another option is to have a set price on cosmetic / vanity items so that if you want it you do not need to risk your money for it but rather buy it outright as is the case in some microtransactions within games.
Either way, we are standing on the verge of a massive change in the gaming industry and it is going to be no doubt a minefield for some time but one this is for sure, this can no longer be ignored and should other countries follow Belgium’s stance on loot boxes?
That about wraps it up from me this week, I hope you have enjoyed the read and if you wish to get involved in discussing this then leave a comment below with your opinion on this.
Until next week, where I will be discussing “The Battle Royal Mode and have we had enough of it yet?”
Catch you all on the flip side – Doogle