Loot boxes have been commonplace in video games for many years now but have become significantly more popular since the rise of free-to-play games. These are free to download and play, but gamers are enticed to spend money on loot boxes as a means of monetization for the game.
Loot boxes seem to be around every corner, promising goods to gamers in exchange for in-game or even real-world currency. Many countries have begun drawing parallels between loot boxes and gambling, even going so far as to ban them entirely. But are they really that dangerous?
What Is a Loot Box?
A loot box is a mysterious item purchased with in-game or real-world currency. It could contain anything from an extremely rare weapon or character to something almost completely useless. Think of a lucky dip bag you may have brought at the fair as a child or a scratch card that could be the ticket to the jackpot.
The key to loot boxes is that the buyer never knows what they’re going to get in exchange for their purchase. They could receive something of equal or higher value, but chances are that they won’t.
Loot boxes are very similar to gacha game mechanics, which also use the same high-risk, high-reward structure to entice gamers into spending money to be in with a chance to win extremely valuable and rare items.
How Can a Loot Box Be Considered Gambling?
Gambling is defined as taking a risky action in the hope of a desired result. When you translate this to the concept of a loot box, the risk is the money that the player has surrendered, and the desired result is the rare item that the loot box may or may not contain.
Loot box mechanics fit the definition of gambling like Cinderella does her glass slipper, but that’s not the only shoe that fits the mold of gambling when it comes to loot boxes.
Loot Boxes Are Addictive
When a player does manage to win their desired prize in a loot box, the brain releases dopamine, otherwise known as the pleasure chemical. This adds to the general excitement anyone feels when they’re surprised with something they really wanted, almost like a child who has opened their favorite toy on Christmas Day.
This excitement and massive dopamine rush can be very addictive and draw gamers back in to experience that same feeling again and again, regardless of the chances.
Loot Boxes Dangle the Carrot in Front of Gamers
The big win seems so close when it comes to loot boxes. They are very moreish and cause gamers to sink more money into them with a ‘just one more’ sort of effect. It also doesn’t help when some loot boxes don’t disclose what the chances of winning are.
With a game of chance, the reward always seems so within reach, like it’s just going to take one more box. This is quite often not the case, resulting in some gamers spending upwards of one hundred dollars in real-world currency to get one reward.
Are Loot Boxes Gambling? Should I Be Avoiding Them?
In almost all senses of the word, loot boxes are a form of online gambling. Their addictive nature and just-one-more effect entice gamers into spending their hard-earned money, in-game or otherwise, on an item that may or may not contain something of value.
When you compare this to buying a scratch card for a dollar to potentially win more, there are not many differences, if any, between these two scenarios.
It's very easy to think of loot boxes and gacha mechanics as mere games, but the reality is that they do feature all the hallmarks of gambling and can lead to other behaviors, such as skin gambling in video games or even gambling in real life. If you have an addictive personality or your child is playing these types of games, loot boxes are definitely better avoided.
Everything in Moderation
Just because you dabble in the purchase of loot boxes every now and then doesn’t mean you will automatically become addicted to them and find yourself attending Loot Box Anonymous meetings every week.
But they are something to be wary of, particularly if you find you lack impulse control, or you are concerned about your child being exposed to gambling behaviors at a young age.