For Many Players, Lootboxes Are a Crisis That's Already Here


#1

My older sister has three kids–a 12-year-old, an 11-year-old, and an 8-year-old. This Christmas, they got an Xbox One. When I found out about their gift, I got excited. The only other console they had at home was a Wii, meaning this was their chance to play some of my current favorites. I was dying to know what games they got and what accessories she grabbed them. And then I asked something I’d never thought to ask a parent before.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/kznmwa/for-many-players-lootboxes-are-a-crisis-thats-already-here

#2

I’ve been following this issue and am honestly really conflicted about it. As someone who personally doesn’t struggle with loot box addiction, up until recently I saw it as an out-and-out benefit. With loot boxes, my favorite online games need not sell map packs that divide player bases, and they need not be abandoned by developers lacking profitability in a game’s year two or beyond. But now that I hear more and more about what loot boxes can do to people susceptible to the underlying gambling of it, I can’t say that it as ‘clean’ a business model as I originally thought.

But then I think back to my days as a kid, spending all of my money on Magic: The Gathering boosters. Weren’t they the same type of gambling that loot boxes are? What about baseball cards, or Pokémon cards, or even services like Loot Crate? What is it about Overwatch’s loot boxes that are so different from these examples? I don’t mean to come off as contradictory, perhaps all of these systems need to go. Or perhaps we just need better treatment methods for people, and treat all this like a mixed-benefit good like alcohol? But then how does one enforce age limits in online games?

Sorry for the ramble, just putting my thoughts out there.


#3

Some people draw a distinction between digital goods and physical due to the secondhand market, or that online transactions are much easier to do impulsively, but I’m with you, I think they’re similar enough to be lumped together. Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Magic definitely target kids and prey on the same rush of being surprised. There are tons of little collectibles for pretty much every franchise you can think of that are sold in blind packs… Target has an entire toy aisle dedicated to them.

Like you, I’ve enjoyed being able to get so much content for free, and always liked to believe that the people subsidizing my play were people that could afford it, but I can’t really turn a blind eye to the human cost of these games anymore. People that have the money should be able to spend it how they want, but we need more protections for those that are vulnerable.


#4

For 2018 I’ve set a hard rule for myself to not buy any game with lootboxes/blindboxes. I’ve never been someone who’s felt compelled to purchase them before but more and more it’s becoming apparent their popularity in games is because of how effective they are as a predatory practice. Even if I’m not effected I don’t want to be part of what at best is design I hate and don’t want to participate in and at worst is actively ruining people’s lives.

There might have been a level at which some of these practices were acceptable but we’ve seen some publishers/devs go way past this and completely poison the well. It’s becoming something bad enough that I’d like to see more media sources take hardline stances on it. I’d be curious to see if any media/publication source makes the decision to not cover a game because of their lootbox practices or to significantly bring down a review score because of them.


#5

Hi! Thanks for reading my piece. I’m gonna try and read all your thoughts in here and I’ll likely answer questions if they come up but mostly I wanted to pop in and say thanks it means a lot to me.


#6

I feel ease of access is one of the major differences between Overwatch loot boxes and CCG boosters (or baseball cards even). You can click a button and boom, instant rush of surprise and the chance to get a rare skin that would otherwise take hours of time to earn. For CCGs you still have to go to a store and buy them, they don’t have as widespread mass appeal. Cost I think too, the loot boxes are basically $1, I’m pretty sure a booster is at least $2.50. Its a lot easier to take a chance on $1 than in $2 increments. Then $1 turns into $2, $3 etc. While the concept is definitely similar, I think that physical barrier to CCGs makes a big difference. If you can do it all from your pajamas, in your own home, its a lot more likely.

While I am also not susceptible to the impulsiveness of loot boxes, its important we advocate for awareness of the issue and anything that can be done. Yes people can spend their money as they want, but there’s a point where I feel we have a responsibility to assist those who have these tendencies already. Just like we would an “official” gambling problem.


#7

Very glad to see writing that focuses on this via the angle of potential damage, financially and emotionally, to the people who are susceptible to the addictions of gambling.

The backlash initially put me off since it was largely centered around YouTube games pundits who drummed up this problem from an angle of consumerist “loss of value”, poisoning the well for criticism.

While both arguments are intended towards the same goal of reducing/restricting the usage of these models in gaming, the latter is positioned in the idea that it’s only “unacceptable” when it’s contained in $60 retail games, with the implication (accidental or sometimes deliberate) that it’s A-Okay when placed into free-to-play games such as Dota or Counter-Strike.

The debate needs to center on how the games industry’s commercialism is leading to abusive practices targeting vulnerable people, rather than arguing about what the “right” kind of commercialism should be.


#8

I’m not sure this really rates all that high on the gambling spectrum, considering all of the options for more explicit gambling in the form of slots and poker apps. There’s been an air of moral panic over “the kids” lately that sorta seems like sublimated attempts to deal with larger political concerns, and I’m getting weird 80’s vibes.


#9

Aside from the potential harm that these could do to the vulnerable, i think almost every game is worse for it.

  1. I worry about money in my real life all the time, I’m going to enjoy your game less if your bring my stress about real money into your game.
  2. The temptation is going to be to make progression worse in order to make real money spend more attractive. And even if you haven’t done that, the idea that progression might be slowed down in order to get me to spend money is going to be in my mind. Again, you’re giving me money stress and giving me reason to distrust the developer, even if there’s no reason to.
  3. Even if lootboxes don’t affect progression, putting cosmetic items behind these blind boxes close off one more avenue of goal-setting that exists in many games. I played a lot of games like Tekken 3 in order to unlock new characters – having more goals gave me even more reason to play a game.

#10

The fact it is not explicit is a large part of the problem - if something is obviously gambling it is much easier to avoid, whereas the use of gambling-like systems in games and apps that do not have the facade of gambling are far more likely to bypass people’s defences and hook those who would otherwise not engage with traditional gambling methods.


#11

This piece really summed up what I’ve been saying for awhile now, and I think it’s worth pointing out microtransactions do the exact same predatory shit as well. The best freeium games I’ve played have been really generous with free content, and extra content you can get through microtransactions don’t give a significant edge or have a particular appeal, it’s just like “hey if you want this knight costume set just give us a buck or two.” Even that should raise some eyebrows when you add in stuff like seasonal events to pressure for more spending by putting content on a timer.

This is often why I stop playing Animal Crossing, because I just can’t take the subconscious pressure I put on myself to play regularly. When you add in real, actual money for digital goods that can just randomly vanish one day, things get unethical quick, weaponizing that pressure we put on ourselves to regularly play. This is particularly why I utterly despise Overwatch’s lootbox practices, because they’re basically stealing the format of gacha mobile games and putting in a full, purchasable title.

I have some addiction issues, and it ha taken me a lot of time to figure out how I can enjoy things in moderation. My experience with games that encourage micro-transactions have told me I should never play these games, with very, VERY few exceptions.

This shit is literally evil at worst, and I could only possibly accept it in freeium titles because you expect it to be in those games as the cost, not a game that costs 60 bloody dollars.


#12

The only game I ever used lootboxes in was in the “early days” with TF2 and then I kinda fell into the camp of “it’s just cosmetics” too since the addiction part didn’t affect me too greatly. But that changed A Lot over time and could even see aspects of myself that I disliked giving into them, even though I spent very little compared to a lot of people. This article definitely hits the nail on the head anyway, I’m glad quite a few gaming publications have brought up this aspect of lootboxes.

If the industry (especially AAA) cannot survive without them then they need to change how the industry does business, whether it’s willingly by them, or sadly and probably inevitably, by force. I know people say it helps keep some places afloat but there will be many a dev that will tell you it just keeps the pockets of the shareholders stuffed (naturally, depends on the publisher).


#13

Like him or not, Jim Sterling has been bang on regarding this issue for some time. Even if you personally are not susceptible to the pull of loot boxes, it’s hard to see how they haven’t made many games worse


#14

I understand why people have this sentiment, but ultimately I can’t read this any more as people valuing either their own entertainment or a company over the lives of other humans.

(to be clear, this isn’t directed at you)


#15

Ye, it always seems almost indistinguishable from “oh we can’t pay a living wage because we’d go out of business”. Well in that case, what they’re proposing is not a business but a racket.

If an executive (or their champions who think they’re defending the flow of games) requires the exploitation of those with gambling tendencies to sustain their business, it deserves to fail. Using employees as human shields to that criticism just doesn’t cut it. Those workers should be in real jobs that aren’t built on exploitation - making games is hard but also creates something that is widely recognised to have great value, which doesn’t need addictive hooks to make it economically viable under late capitalism.


#16

when i hit the wall after spending hundreds of dollars on boxes i looked up where the nearest alcoholics anon meeting was. The 12 steps work no matter what the addiction is and i justified it to myself as almost everyone has had a bad experience with alcohol and no one is going to give you a hard time because your addicted to something else as well. turns out that was a guy there who blew a grand on clash of clans. an addictive personality is an addictive personality sometimes its games sometimes its drugs. a good 12 step program will help regardless.


#17

To add another thought on the differences between digital loot boxes and physical trading card games: Using cards to play Yu-Gi-Yo, or Pokemon, or Magic, generally requires you to interact with friends or other people in person. While, you could play Overwatch with friends, I don’t know if that really simulates the same kind of face to face human interaction. I would guess that kind of isolation when playing a game with these systems probably doesn’t help the negative feelings in people who can have problems with loot box addiction.


#18

From my own viewpoint, totally agreed.


#19

AA and 12 step programs are nonsense, and pretty much every study done on them shows that they almost never work, with the people who use them being the ones who relapse into their old habits more often than those who go for any other method.


#20

I get where you’re coming from, but maybe go easy on @krelmoon? He’s clearly going through a whole thing with addiction and found an approach that worked for him. Do you really need to shit on his recovery?

EDIT: I should also note that the issue with AA is that it fails to address the chemical nature of alcohol dependence. With loot boxes, you don’t necessarily have to deal with brain chemistry so much, so perhaps a support group like AA would be a decent way to treat this sort of thing. I am not an addiction specialist though, so what do I know.