The Organizations That Could Do Something About Loot Boxes Don't Care

The heated conversation around loot boxes is unlikely to die down anytime soon, and one question raised is whether loot boxes represent a form of gambling. If so, loot boxes could potentially be subject to regulation. So far, there's not much reason to to expect meaningful change anytime soon; organizations, both in and outside of government, are keeping their distance.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

There needs to be some sort of progress to make sure loot boxes get out of controls of people’s games. I had to warn my brother and sister-in-law to make sure the games they buy for their kids have loot boxes. Their still young so the most they have is pokemon but just wanted to give them a heads up.

Usually we don’t see much traction on these issues until they break out into the mainstream. Loot boxes as a concern still exist primarily within the confines of games enthusiasts (who make up a comparatively small portion of the larger game-playing populace).

The more manipulative aspects of mobile games targeted towards kids are usually given excuses of “well what did you expect letting your kid get their hands on your credit card”. Right now, the only full-price games with loot boxes are targeted towards teens (Overwatch, Battlefront) or adults (Shadow of War, Forza), audiences who are considered better able to be discerning about additional spending on these games (even if that’s largely not the case or the point).

Until we see something like a mainstream Nintendo game including loot boxes in a full price game–which I don’t see happening anytime soon–I’m doubting we’ll see legal ramifications for these practices anytime soon.

Do loan sharks already target their advertising towards mobile games (as they seem like the most likely to have ad space you can buy plus loot boxes that can lead to the need for cash to continue gambling for the reward/outcome you want) or have mobile ads generally been able to avoid that sort of bad press (by restrictions on what Google etc let advertise)?

That really only needs to happen once before the press could change this from a niche issue to being very much a mainstream concern. Where I am the current political concern is centred almost entirely around FOBT but that won’t stay true forever. Regulators can say “without real money coming out it’s not really gambling” as much as they like, but if people engage in gambling-like activities including losing their money to it enough (especially with the secondary markets for “prizes” with dollar-value exchanges from official things like Steam Marketplace to the rather more suspect account-trading exchanges) then definitions will have to change.

Skylanders Imaginators sells loot boxes, both digitally and physically.

I knew they had some sort of blind booster pack thing, but I didn’t know they were doing a digital one as well. Yeesh.

Thanks Patrick for breaking down why loot boxes are substantially different to collectable card packs (eg baseball, basketball, magic the gathering, etc.).

This issue is close to breaking into mainstream news, so it needs the spotlight to continue to shine brightly upon it.

People that defend this practice frustrate me so much. It is purely a cynical and exploitative money-grab by developers and publishers that does not improve games and in many cases makes the gaming experience much worse.

I would expect the UK’s “formal” response to mirror the same answer the Junior Minister gave as the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is a known Tech Illiterate and probably won’t have much to add. At the same time, kicking it back to the Gambling Commission is probably the better idea because the UK government’s idea of a “safer internet” seems to be that of a censored internet. Everyone was rather lucky the BBFC and VSC did a good job moving the system to PEGI (Which is funded by the industry, but overseen and appointed by classification boards in Europe) and the Gambling Comissions postion and discussion papers are a good read.. Asking for government regulation from the Tories would be colossaly stupid considering how temptingly easy it is to overstep their bounds and start going after in game content like violence or sexuality. Never mind the US administration getting their hands on it (And it was a miracle the ESRB happened in the first place). Putting it in the hands of a Gambling Commission that works independently is probably the compromise needed. It’s not going to get rid of loot boxes. But it might bring up better alternatives.

I suppose one is just directly lifted from Football (Soccer) Sticker Albums. If there’s that one sticker you can’t find. Games should allow for currency free trades with friends who have duplicates. Or you can straight out buy the item with in game currency. Back in my day, you had to send a postal order and they would send you the missing sticker(s) or see if the company organized a “Swap Shop” tour where they would have all the stickers and trade them for your own stickers and a small fee (Literal pennies per sticker. They had nowhere near the same value as Baseball cards in the US. Or Pokémon cards, recently). If we’re going to do the same thing as collectable cards. Then at least allow the same infrastructure and economy collectable card games allow without the grotesque monetisation on Steam.

The comparison of loot boxes to CCG packs is tricky, since CCG packs are absolutely a form of gambling, and lean upon the secondary market value of cards to drive the purchase of sealed packs, whilst almost always being degrees of pay to win; things someone not part of the scene may not necessarily realise.

In theory the ability to trade loot box drops is a good one, but it would need to be heavily restricted (eg: items can only be traded for an equal number of items of the same rarity) to avoid the kinds of problems we’ve seen crop up in MMO economies over the years.

If people don’t want various governments to become directly involved in this matter, the ESRB and similar organizations need to step up to the plate relatively soon.


Another difference between CCGs and loot boxes is that once physical cards are printed and shipped the number of them and you chances of getting a particular card is fixed.

What really worries me about loot boxes is that drop rates can be changed on the fly to encourage people to spend more. The psychological manipulation is gross.