Spending real-world currency for the opportunity to win virtual items has become a focus of the gaming industry and has led to a lot of controversies as a result. Loot boxes are a feature of video games where players can win random virtual prizes, granting them advantages in the game. But the catch is that players have to invest real money in order to win these items, often shelling out for items that don’t benefit them in any way, sometimes they will unlock free loot boxes with gameplay, but often these are restricted teasers, much like a free bet. The loot box model has been polarising, with many feeling that it should be regulated in the same way as gambling. Many players have labeled the feature unethical and unfair, and it has even led to addictions to develop in some cases. But if loot boxes are seen as a form of gambling, how is the best way to regulate them?
Apply a Rating System
If loot boxes share the same traits as gambling, the next step should be to apply an adult rating to the games that contain them. This is particularly important to protect younger players from being caught up in the addictive cycle of spending money on chance. Casinos and lotteries are games of chance that are carefully regulated and controlled, so loot boxes should be monitored in the same way. Critics feel that the only difference between slot machines or other games of chance to loot boxes is that instead of a cash payout, players are pumping money in the chance of earning character skins or cosmetic items for their characters.
More Understanding of the Odds
Another issue surrounding loot boxes is that there is a lack of understanding around what counts as ‘winning’ and what the odds are. A win would be considered a rare item, but few publishers are actually transparent about this data. In parts of Asia and Europe, lawmakers have made it compulsory for companies to reveal the drop rates and some results have shown that players have just a 1 in 1000 chance of earning these types of items. But still, not every country has to abide by these rulings, making it easy for publishers to profit from players’ lack of understanding. As a way of regulating loot boxes, publishers should be made to reveal this data so that players are aware of the chances of winning, in the same way, that they are with the lottery, scratch cards or other games of chance.
An Intervention by the ESRB
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board doesn’t have a clear-cut ruling on how games are rated – for example, games which are considered violent have the option to turn off these features but will still be labeled as M for Mature. But adult content should be intended for a mature audience and children shouldn’t be able to make use of it. Loot boxes should be treated in the same way and if the real money is changing hands in a game then there should be an 18+ rating on it so that it’s clear.