The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently released a report on "immersive and addictive technologies" which came with the recommendation that the UK Government regulate loot boxes under the Gambling Act and prohibit the sale of them to children. Loot boxes are not uncommon in most AAA titles, particularly those with a multiplayer component, but are they welcome, or do they subtract more than they add?
They certainly know how to make them alluring.
The only time I have any contact with loot boxes (or whatever industry executives are calling them these days) is when they’re handed out as in-game rewards. I’ve never paid money for one, and I’ve never felt the urge to. But that’s not to say I’m entirely immune to their charms. I’d eagerly rush to open a new box between rounds of Overwatch hoping to find a rare skin, and I’d always save my REQ points (Halo 5’s in-game currency) so I could go for the more expensive gold REQ packs and enjoy the fanfare that came with earning higher tier loot.
I can see the problem with having such mechanics, especially paid ones, in games that are readily available to a younger audience. In my teenage years I stood for hours in bookies watching friends lose money they didn’t have on digital roulette machines in pursuit of a win, and I know how painfully addictive the chase is.
Slapping an 18 rating or a gambling warning on FIFA is unlikely to stop waves of oblivious parents from buying the game for their child, and while I doubt we’ll ever be rid of them in titles like that in some form or other, more stringent regulation coupled with consumer outrage might at least convince a few publishers to ditch the trend.
Ultra rare drops are sometimes even less common than the name suggests.
Coverage of the scrutiny loot boxes are under has had very few rallying to the defence of the big publishers who make their existence a reality, besides the publishers themselves, as most gamers, it's safe to say, aren't huge fans.
The notion that you need to spend more money, after paying upwards of £50 on a game, to get the best experience doesn't sit well at the best of times, but to do so and not be sure what you're even paying for is far worse.
The targeting of young and vulnerable people in particular is bad (though it isn't the only industry to do so), and the report specifically suggests putting barriers up to protect youngsters and their parents' credit cards.
The regulation of some of these mechanics (which are certainly anything but a surprise) should be an opportunity to help the industry to be taken seriously, when compared to a passion for film or TV, and put an end to the latest story your parents hear about gaming being how a 6 year old spent £1,000 in FIFA Ultimate Team.
A world-class digital team could require a lot of physical funds.
Provided they don’t affect game balance, I’m not entirely opposed to traditional microtransactions. This most often means they take the form of cosmetic items that hold little to no value for me personally, but having a reasonably priced option for those of a different disposition is generally harmless enough.
Not entirely harmless, mind, with one example being kids getting bullied for playing as the default character in Fortnite. That obviously isn’t okay, but you can at least grab exactly what’s needed to address the “problem” if need be. Games that tie everything into randomised loot boxes don’t allow for that (and it’s telling that this is the stage we’re at) “luxury”.
Instead you might be lucky enough to get a 0.5% chance at unlocking the desired item, which can not only lead to children emptying their unknowing parents’ bank accounts, but also prey on adults that are susceptible to the intentionally insidious hooks of problem gambling. Regardless of any ancient definition that might legally rule out loot boxes as a form of gambling on a technicality, the blighters are precisely that.
Free-to-play games that need so-called “whales” (a dehumanising term which, one could argue, helps with handling the question of morality) to support them are one thing, but when full price games like FIFA are built around the same model it’s just a display of unchecked greed. Especially when, in this instance, the offending Ultimate Team mode does affect gameplay balance.
The free-to-play model works a lot better in free-to-play titles.
Let us know how you feel about loot boxes.