You’d buy a game, and you’d make the most of the gameplay options available – powerful guns, fast cars, special moves – in order to progress to a satisfying conclusion. Whether you were working through a solo campaign or helping a team in an online shooter, everything you’d need would already be on the disc, but loot boxes in gaming seem to be a growing trend. Whilst downloadable content already offered exclusive gameplay perks to players – new weapons found in Bloodborne’s DLC, for instance – those gameplay perks existed in the DLC as guaranteed drops that became available after fixed conditions laid out in the DLC had been met. Loot boxes in gaming, however, offer a random reward – and if you’re not happy with what you’ve got, you’d better pay up for more boxes.
Loot boxes in gaming: the gamble
It’s easy to see why gaming communities around the internet are finding the nature of loot box gambling pretty gross. Admittedly, not all loot boxes in gaming offer gameplay perks to players – for instance, the likes of Overwatch restrict loot box content to purely cosmetic items such as a new tag or a unique emote that you can use. You’re hardly going to be too upset if someone performs a goofy taunt after they’ve just eliminated you, but the practice gets less palatable when loot box rewards extend beyond cosmetics. You only need to look at the model used in the Star Wars Battlefront 2 beta – where upgrades for a character can either be earned through a conventional gameplay-based grind or through loot box gambling – to see how they can cause disruption in a game’s community. Maybe opening up loot boxes can be acceptable when you’re playing a free-to-play game and it needs to be supported in some way, but rolling the dice on gameplay bonuses after already spending £40 on a disc can leave a bad aftertaste. And what about the press – especially the reviewers who need to go out and buy a game and don’t receive a special copy with everything unlocked? Should reviews cater to the person who expects to enjoy themselves with the free content that’s on the disc, or the person who shells out for 50 loot boxes whenever they have the opportunity to do so?
Loot boxes in gaming: what next?
Loot boxes in gaming are exciting and rewarding when done well, but toxic and offputting when abused. I can’t speak for the whole of Disposable Media, but whilst I’m not about to crusade against loot boxes throughout this site, I think it would be worse if people said nothing in response to this trend. The entertainment community Rllmukforum largely stands against the more questionable practices used to get players to shell out for loot boxes, and a few helpful forum members have linked to a petition calling for amended gambling laws that address the addictive nature of loot boxes in video games.
The petition is a start, but maybe we just need greater awareness outside of the law as well – people need to be educated when their kids want an account to be credited with funds that will be spent on a glorified slot machine. There are those who have said that loot box dice rolling is different from conventional gambling because you’re guaranteed to get something out of it, but this argument becomes ridiculous when you consider that any loot box addict will eventually come across duplicates of things that they already own. When that starts happening, loot boxes have as much value as your fruit machine spins – maybe you’ll get something decent, but it might not be after several bad results. And if loot boxes endorse this behaviour, nobody will come out of it looking good.
Update: on October 26th there was a government response to the petition I mentioned a couple of paragraphs up. It’s too wordy to quote in its entirety, but their argument claimed that the activities associated with loot boxes only constituted gambling if the loot box rewards could be exchanged for “money or money’s worth” – it seems like the man doesn’t see the dice-rolls of unknown loot box unlocks as a problem as long as the items can’t be traded. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on loot boxes (or your thoughts on this response) in the comments below.