While much of the focus today regarding gambling addiction remains largely on the online casino and sports betting industries, few seem to realise that the video games that your children play online now also contain gambling elements. In fact, industry experts warn of a dramatic increase in gambling addiction among teenagers and preteens who play video games, either online or on home consoles.
The main cause of the rise of this type of gambling addiction can be squarely placed on the rise of the prevalence of so-called ‘loot boxes’, which are now found in most major or popular video games such as Star Wars, Overwatch and others. In fact, a recent study revealed that over 70% of all video games found on the Steam platform contained one or another form of gambling, an alarming statistic indeed.
But what are loot boxes, and how do video gamers expose themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, to forms of gambling in video games? We take a close look at the issue, unpack what loot boxes actually are, and find out just how serious the issue is and whether or not you should be concerned.
So-called loot boxes are becoming more and more prevalent within all sorts of video games, both online, on mobile and PC. While the name does sound rather innocent and innocuous, the reality is something quite different.
“Loot boxes” are becoming increasingly prevalent on computer video games despite rising alarm over the early exposure of children to gambling, new research suggests. In its simplest form, a loot box is a virtual container or ‘box’ that contains a random collection of virtual prizes, known as ‘bundles’. These random virtual boxes can only be opened when the player buys the right to open them with actual, real-world currency.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of York, the practice of inserting loot boxes into games is growing at an alarming rate, and has increased over the past nine years from just 4% prevalence, to a whopping 71% across a wide range of game types.
A more complete explanation of what loot boxes actually are, classifies them as “randomised microtransactions that occur in-game”. Once introduced, the practice spread like wildfire, as more and more game developers and publishers realised just how massive their new potential revenue stream could be.
In the past, video game developers and publishers would only be able to sell a game as a boxed and complete item, usually for a once-off purchase price of around £50 - £70. However, adding loot boxes throughout a games progress means that potential revenue skyrockets. At the same time, developers are able to neatly avoid any accusations of creating “pay to play” or “pay to win” platforms.
Video games that contain loot boxes were originally developed in Japan and were known as “Gacha games”. The idea to put loot boxes in video games was inspired by the popular “Gachapon” games found all over Japan. In Gachapon games, players try to win plastic capsules or eggs which contain a random prize. Each coin operated machine will feature around ten or more possible prizes, and players try to win all of the available prize, but never known what their capsule may contain.
The principle of spending money in the hopes of capturing an egg or prize capsule that will contain the item that you need to complete your collection is very powerful indeed, and certainly creates both a gambling mentality and a collector’s mentality.
By adding the concept of Gachapon to digital video games, thereby creating the digital version of prize capsules known either as loot boxes, card packs or prize packs (depending on the game), the element of gambling is introduced to the video game.
However, digital loot boxes take things a step further by introducing the concept of rare or must-have collectible items. These often relate to the upgrading of certain character features, outfits, gear, and other characteristics. While just about all loot boxes will guarantee the presence of certain common prizes or items, whether they contain any of those rare items is not.
For this very reason, loot boxes have come under fire from gaming and gambling addiction experts as encouraging gambling among younger players, since these players are encouraged to keep spending their money in hopes of finding the ‘loot’ that they need.