Recently, EA and Ubisoft have had the spot light on their companies due to a growing interest in a loot boxes and the overall shadiness of it.
Loot boxes are nothing more then just another way to get gamers to spend a little extra money on a game that they like in order to feel like they have a bit of an edge. In my opinion, I feel as though Loot boxes had their origin in the very profitable DLC concept that video games have been leaning towards. Loot boxes, as well as DLCs, started out as something very simple. You would buy the game, play the game, and if you wanted some new skin for your character, or maybe a new look for your weapon, you could spend some real world money and have a character that would stand out. Most of the gaming community were ok with the idea of this mainly because it didn’t actually effect the way the game was played. You would not be better then the person next to you because you decided to buy a Goku shirt.
Different companies seeing this as a huge market of untapped potential. They have realized that some gamers may not have the time to actually play a game for hours and hours on end, and they would much rather spend a few bucks to get the end game gear and be able to enjoy the game with the rest of the community. Although on some level this may actually sound like a good thing for someone that wants to be able to enjoy a Call of Duty like multiplayer, it seemed as though various gaming companies saw this as a chance to make even more money on every game that they release. Like a virus, it starts off small, and then it takes over and becomes something that needs to be addressed.
The idea of buying a end game gun has evolved into random drops and random chances at better gear. This is the Loot box model and it has been making companies like EA lots and lots of money.
The problem that I see with this system is that it is all up to chance. You are spending real money in order for a chance to get some better gear and it causes the lizard brain to keep on trying. Using the tactics that have given casinos such a huge profit margin, the sights and sounds of opening a Loot box gives you the impression that something amazing is happening. The gear that you are receiving will have different colors and sounds associated with the rarity of the item, and it makes you crave the next encounter. Psychologists call the principle by which they work on the human mind ‘variable rate reinforcement.’ Dr. Luke Clark, the director at the Center for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia said, “The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably.” When we open up a loot crate and we get something really good, we have a surge of dopamine and we feel great. We feed on that response and it leads to open just one more box. Though we may not have gotten anything good this time, maybe next time we will get something great. It’s all about your next dopamine fix.
Now some may question whether this is actually a problem. Technically no one is actually forcing you to buy anything extra. Often times, the section of a game that allows you to buy extra stuff is actually behind a couple of menu screens. Though this is a valid argument, I would say that the issue is not so simple.
Take the release of Star Wars: Battlefront 2. This was a prime example of EA really going head first in the “Play to win” era of Loot boxes. Reviewers received copies of the game and immediately began voicing their outrage towards loot boxes. EA had basically created a system where the one that was the most dedicated to paying EA would be the top dog in multiplayer. They had have a “star card” system where you can actually upgrade your avatar with better weapons, gear, and armor. These things can be obtained if you either A. have the countless sleepless nights to devote to this game, or B. have a few hundred bucks laying around. Someone on Reddit actually counted up the amount of time that it would take for someone to actually acquire every character and every upgrade that the game had to offer. This user concluded that it would take someone a total of 4528 hours or a whopping $2,100 and this basically set the internet on fire. EA quickly released a statement stating they were listening and that they would find a way to fix this. Essentially, they were caught and they now had to back peddle in order to continue to stay in business. The day before the game was to be released to the general public, the CEO of Disney called the CEO of EA and, after a conversation that I assume had a lot of choice words, EA decided they would shut down all micro transactions (for now) and change the amount of in game currency that it would take to get new characters by 75%. This was a major victory for the gaming community and it showed that they need to make games for us and not for the shareholders.
To me, Loot Boxes are shady at best and criminal at worst. Loot Boxes should be labeled a form of gambling and should not be marketed towards children. As of right now, Belgium is fighting this very issue in their courts and the judgement of this case could have very lasting effects on the gaming industry as a whole.