Loot boxes are virtual boxes that contain randomised items that you can use in a game and some of the popular games feature them such as, Overwatch, and Star Wars Battlefront II.
It seems the world is divided on the issue of whether they are considered gambling with some jurisdictions such as New Zealand and the UK stating loot boxes aren’t gambling and others, such as China and Japan, saying they are. Both countries have regulated loot boxes in one way or another. And there have been some strong words used to describe in-game loot boxes, with the Hawaiian Democratic State Representative, Chris Lee describing loot boxes as ‘predatory behaviour’.
Whatever the answer, there’s no doubt that they can cause harm whether it be from spending lots of money or from the games being targeted at children and easily accessible by children. The ‘gamblification’ of games is steadily increasing with some commentators describing this as ‘grooming young people for gambling’.
Probably most alarming is the use of ‘pokie machine-like’ characteristics of pay-to-loot systems within games that cause us to ‘chase reward’. Just like gambling, loot boxes appeal to our psychological need for reward and that’s where the addictive process kicks in.
Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme has covered this issue extensively. In one of its articles it states that ‘in the Star Wars Battlefront II game, players are prompted to chance real money on 'loot boxes' containing in-game goods such as digital weapons or powerful abilities’.
The programme featured an American 19-year-old gamer, ‘Kensgold’, who said ‘sixty to seventy percent of online games – some aimed at children as young as five – offer and encourage such micro-transactions to advance play.’
While not everyone is tempted to pay to advance in the game, it can be the difference between playing for hours and hours to achieve something or spending the money and winning the game.
Whether it’s gambling or just gaming for entertainment, we want people to know about the risks involved with these games that include pay-to-loot systems and urge parents to check whether micro-transactions are part of the game their children are playing.
There are other risks associated with gaming and it’s helpful for parents to understand them and to help children to enter the world of gaming as safely as possible.
Read PGF’s Safer Gaming – A Guide for Parents
Other useful and interesting articles on ‘pay-to-loot’ systems:
Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon featuring PGF Chief Executive, Paula Snowden, Are Video Games Encouraging Children to Gamble?
Paul Hung from the Classification Office in NZ, A Beginner’s Guide to Loot Boxes – Harmless Fun or Gambling?
Adam Goodall in The Spinoff interviews NZ game designers and PGF, Are Lootboxes the slotmachines of gaming.