Loot boxes in the gaming industry

Rafael Zamora, Reporter


Loot boxes are a form of micro transaction in video games. They allow a player to purchase an in-game crate or box for a chance to obtain a randomized pack of in-game items. When you look at Star Wars Battlefront 2, a game that players felt was lacking in content and filled with micro transactions.

The Beta (pre-release game test to discover and patch software bugs), for the game, revealed that iconic Star Wars characters were locked behind a giant paywall of in-game currency. The currency would be regularly rewarded for playing the game, but it could also be obtained much faster by purchasing loot boxes and selling any duplicate items.

A swotorstratagies.com user by the name of Soeren Kamper made a post on what it took to unlock everything in the game. Kamper’s post shows how he got to the conclusion that it would take 4,528 hours which is roughly 6 months of game play or $2,100 to unlock everything in the game. The news caused an uproar in the online community causing the majority to scream “pay to win”  EA responded to the backlash by removing micro-transactions temporarily from the game. An update 4 months after the games release changed the loot box and progression system in the game. Loot boxes were now cosmetic only and upgrades could no longer be bought but instead earned through game play.

Another mistake the developers made was the decision to shut down a single player Star Wars game and closed the studio producing it, Visceral Games. The assets from visceral’s project were used in star wars battlefront 2. The reason they shut the game down was that “it continued to look like a much more linear game which people don’t like as much today as they did five years ago or 10 years ago.” Said Blake Jorgensen, EA Chief Operating Officer.  “You gotta cut the bridge when you realize you can’t make a lot of money on something”, said Jorgensen. Meaning they think loot boxes, as well as microtransactions, are necessary to turn a profit. This simply isn’t true.

When you look at games like; The Last of us, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Uncharted 4, horizon: Zero Dawn, and with more recent titles like God of War that sold 3.1 million copies in 3 days according to a PlayStation blog post. God of War became Sony’s fastest selling ps4 exclusive which was then beaten by Marvel’s Spider-man which managed to sell 3.3 million in 3 days according to a Twitter post by PlayStation. To put this into perspective Star Wars Battlefront 2 sold 1.3 million copies on multiple platforms. These games show what’s possible when developers make a quality single player game. The developers will have a growing fan base of players that will continue to look forward to future releases.

“Loot boxes can cause players to lose trust in a company, it’s not a free mobile game. It’s a full $60 game.” said senior Jonathan Patterson. A Cowen (Financial service company) analyst said: “pre-orders for Battlefield 5 are tracking 85% behind Call of Duty: Black Ops 4”. The analyst said it could be due to its launch schedule as it’s launching between Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 on Oct 12 and Red Dead Redemption 2 Oct 26 while Battlefield 5 is sandwiched between the two competitors with an Oct 19 release date.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 received a lot of community backlash and attention regarding the “pay to win” mechanics. The controversy put the game in the spotlight and the Belgian Gaming Commission (They regulate gambling in Belgium) started investigating if loot boxes should be considered gambling. After months of reviewing, The BGC ruled that loot boxes are gambling in April of 2018 and made them illegal. Belgium asked companies to remove loot boxes from their games or to remove access from minors. If they failed to do so the companies could face fines and possible prison time.

This raises the question. Are loot boxes actually a form of gambling?

The United States legal definitions of gambling is, “A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

Whether or not loot boxes are gambling comes down to a matter of opinion.

Senior Chris Vlamakis said “they are gambling, you don’t know what you’re getting

when you buy one. You can put in money and get something good or something worthless.” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said, “We don’t believe that FIFA Ultimate Team or loot boxes are gambling firstly because players always receive a specified number of items in each pack, and secondly we don’t provide or authorize any way to cash out or sell items or virtual currency for real money.” Belgium already made their stance clear by banning loot boxes in their country.

Not only is EA being threatened with fines and possible jail time for the company

executives, but Belgium’s initiative has brought together 15 other European Gambling Commissions and 1 U.S State. The Gambling Commissions involved (revealed by

www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk) include Austria, Czech Republic, France, Gibraltar, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, And Washington State. They are working together to “address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling.” They will be “Tackling unlicensed third-party websites offering illegal gambling linked to popular video games is a priority and the regulators are calling for the video games industry and technology platforms to play their part in helping crack down on these websites. Games providers must also ensure that features within games, such as loot boxes, do not constitute gambling under national laws.”

With loot boxes being investigated under the “declaration of gambling regulators

on their concerns related to the blurring of lines between gambling and gaming”. It’s clear that something in the industry is going to change.