Lootboxes and the Worrying BehaviourThey Promote
I want to start this out by saying I don’t have a problem with gambling as such. I have been known to have a bet on a sporting event, enjoy a round of blackjack at the casino or even put the occasional $5 note into a pokie machine. I know my limits, never spend more than I can afford to lose and basically never get myself into strife. While I may not have a problem with gambling there is no doubt in my mind that Australia does have a problem, a huge problem. Every day thousands of problem gamblers lose out to their addiction, spending millions of dollars that should have been used to feed children, pay rent or clothe someone. These problem gamblers are always looking for the next big win and are living under the false assumption that if they spend enough, play enough, gamble enough they are bound to win.
This is where lootboxes come in as they work on the same philosophy. The whole idea of a lootbox is, at its core, gambling. If I do a certain something enough, earn enough in-game credits or spend enough real-world money I can win something cool, but the chances are I won’t. This is something that has been in mobile gaming for some time and is now more prevalent than ever in console gaming. The first time I noticed it was Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode, where boxes were rewards for time played (or dollars spent) but there was no way of telling what I would receive in the box. Back then I didn’t think much of it, it was a bit of a thrill, a bit of excitement as I opened each hard-earned box.
The thing is now I know differently. The real problems these lootbox systems create are not for people like me, people who are strong enough to know when enough is enough. No, these systems are a problem for the susceptible in our community. The youth, the addicts, the fragile. The constant usage of these systems is making gambling a normal thing, something that is ok. I watch my kids play games these days and I honestly worry about the normalisation of gambling for them much much more than any desensitisation to violence that gaming may cause. The equation of putting something in to get a random result is the essence of gambling and that ethos being shoved into susceptible gamer’s faces is a recipe for trouble. Can you imagine how hard it is for someone who is trying to kick a gambling habit as it is, constantly bombarded but gambling advertising that paints a glamorous picture of this life-destroying habit? Now try to imagine that this person is also a gamer, there is all of a sudden no escape from the behaviours that got them into trouble in the first place.
Now I understand why developers do it, it is an easy way to keep people playing their titles, keep them invested in their games. I also don’t think that developers have implemented these systems in a nefarious manner and it is not their intention to push people into gambling (despite what some conspiracy nuts may have you believe) but I do think they need to realise what these systems may be causing. Any company that releases a product into the community needs to be aware and socially responsible for what that product may do. Should the games come with warnings? Should further research be done into the links between these systems and gambling? Should the whole lootbox system be scrapped for the good of the community? I don’t know, but all options should certainly be considered.
There are other ways that developers can keep people invested in their titles without the need for lootboxes. Hell, Call of Duty pioneered the upgradeable skill tree for multiplayer way back with Modern Warfare. It is an elegant system, a much-copied system, but a system that works. It allows people to earn towards a specific item or skill as opposed to earning the right to a random dice roll. This behaviour is much more in line with saving in the real world, putting time and effort in to save for something you desire at a later date. This makes it a much better option in my eyes than the troublesome lootbox roulette wheel.
Look I don’t have the answers, hell I may not even have all the questions, but in my eyes the normalisation of gambling is one of the biggest community issues Australia faces and I am sure it is similar in other countries. This should be recognised within the video game development community and changes should be made as a result. Lootboxes are an easy way to keep people playing sure, but it is nearly impossible to predict what they are doing to the minds of those playing. A community can only grow and improve if all parts of that community come together and work towards a better place. The strong need to protect the weak, the healthy assist the sick, the powerful empower those that need empowerment. Hopefully, video game developers can see that soon and make some changes that lead to improving the gaming community for all, not just their bottom line.