Loot boxes have been in the news lately all over the world. Once people considered them to be nothing more than an incentive for play. Now, however, governments have categorized them as a form of gambling. European and North American governments see loot boxes as a problem, especially in areas that prohibit online gambling. A new Australian study has pointed out loot boxes are dangerous. They resemble chance-based games, such as the lottery and slots, it says. As a result, Australia may decide to ban loot boxes. It would follow in the footsteps of some of the European countries that have already banned them.
What Are Loot Boxes?
Loot boxes have been in video games for a while. People believe they first appeared in some games made in the early 2000s in China. They became popular in the United States and other Western countries through social media apps, such as Facebook. Then, they moved into traditional video games. With social media games on Facebook, players played the games for free. However, they had to pay to add on things, such as weapons, to enhance the gaming experience. Players also got “points” for recommending the game to other people on social media. Loot boxes continued to evolve. Now, players use “fake” money (points) or actual money to purchase additional levels, equipment or other game enhancements.
Gradually, loot boxes began to appear in popular video games. Electronic Arts, a multimillion-dollar video game company, was the first to use loot boxes in many of its games. The company put them in games that allowed for multiplayer play. These games became very popular, and a majority of the revenue for Electronic Arts came from loot boxes.
The research committee in Australia studied more than 7,000 gamers in the country. It wanted to see how they use loot boxes when they are playing games. The committee also wanted to record their emotions when they played with loot boxes. What they found was that loot boxes based on chance are similar to other games of chance. For example, a player only occasionally purchases a loot box. The one he or she purchases has nothing in it. The player has no reaction. No reward is typical since loot boxes are usually based on chance. This behavior is the same as players who only occasionally gamble.
However, the research also found heavy loot box purchasers have the same reactions as problem gamblers who gamble traditionally. Heavy loot box purchasers believe if they purchase more loot boxes, they will have a greater chance of winning. This is the same emotion problem gamblers exhibit when gambling. Because both loot boxes and most chance gambling randomly award players, gamers and gamblers may exhibit the same behavior.
The Australian research committee expressed some concern. It said many young people under the age of 18 could become addicted to gambling through the use of loot boxes. The researchers called for an outright ban on loot boxes that people must purchase. They also want to restrict the game to people who are 18 or older. Critics point out, however, that many young people can play the games even though they are for adults only. Some countries have banned loot boxes. And, some gaming companies have begun to scale back the use of loot boxes for their games. For example, EA decided to get rid of play-to-win loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II. This highly anticipated game became controversial because of the use of loot boxes egregiously during the game. It is unclear whether loot boxes will continue to make money for companies. Or, perhaps, countries will ban them as a form of gambling.
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