“The house always wins”, Gambling in Video Games


Ten years ago “loot boxes” were mostly found in free-to-play mobile games, so how did 87% of us find them in our fully priced games last year? Rhiannon Nerys Bevan finds out.

Video Games can hardly catch a break in the press between being the cause of America’s violence and a distraction to kids. But aside from these scapegoating arguments that rear their head time and time again, there is a very new – and very worrying – issue that gaming giants have to answer for.

Are they causing gambling addictions?

A “loot box” or “loot crate” is an in-game mechanic, bought with real money giving player’s items such as new characters, costumes and weapons on a random scale. This has drawn in unfavorable comparisons to casinos, as players can sink extortionate amounts of money into these loot boxes and never receive what they want.

Just last December, a gamer shared how he became $16,000 (£11,400) in debt after becoming an addict, spending hundreds at a time on loot boxes that had “no return, no reward”, damaging his relationship with his wife and kids.

loot crate
Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017) exacerbated existing controversy and caught the attention of politicians.

But how far is it our responsibility? I spoke to students on campus to get their views.

“I spent money on loot boxes that I knew had things I wanted I don’t know if I’d take the risk with something like Overwatch where it’s completely random.” shared one student.

Despite that, many of us are taking the risk. One in five of those around campus who plays games have purchased them in the past.

Nicholas Hansen, president of the Video Game society, is concerned about this fact, and the effect it is having on both gamers and the industry.

“By it’s nature, having loot crates that can be bought and give random loot, is a form of gambling.” Nicholas explained.

“You pay, have a small chance at winning big, and a larger chance at failing, and at the end of the day the house always wins.”

The society president also expressed concern at growing “greed” in developers, who are awarding superior content to those willing to gamble, as seen in the controversial Star Wars Battlefront 2. He believes there should be a “crack down” on games aimed at children that encourage gambling.

However, another Essex student, Norbert Choina took a different stance, defending the practice in certain games.

“If a game is receiving updates and has loot boxes which only affect cosmetics, that is totally okay” he said, acrually supporting  Overwatch, which only award optional content in their random loot.

Nicholas too was more defensive of this, praising it for keeping older games alive.

“You pay, have a small chance at winning big, and a larger chance at failing”

Lootboxes have also funded many free-to-play games other the years, such as Team Fortress 2 and Battleborn, which couldn’t remain operational otherwise.

And we’re not as passive as gaming giant might think. 80% of Essex students have so far, resisted the urge to throw more money at them. Regardless, lawmakers are taking action, hoping to tackle games that “exploit children to maximize profits” in the words of Hawaiian politicians.

Is this a step in the right direction, or an overreaction? How will this change the games we play?

And is it all worth it for a pink Darth Vader outfit?




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