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October 9, 2017 | by  | in Games |
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Gimme the Loot

It’s no secret that video game publishers are greedy. While a successful triple-A game can generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, the upfront cost of $100 or more that us Kiwis pay is never enough. They are always looking for new ways to extract more cash from us that don’t require too large an investment on their part, and all too often we fall for them. In recent years, the industry has only gotten more insidious and less honest with consumers about monetisation, to the point where they could well be stepping into legally murky territory.

Loot boxes are one such practice, which the game industry has taken to like a cat to a laser pointer. They first appeared in the West in 2010, when Valve’s Team Fortress 2 was preparing to go free-to-play and exploring future monetisation methods. They work like this: at a point during a game, such as when you level up, a loot box drops. These boxes contain random in-game items of varying rarities such as skins, weapons, or virtual currency. For some games, you are able to open them straight away, whereas other games require you to pay real money for a key to open the box. Some games will allow you to purchase loot boxes with virtual currency or real money, and sometimes let you trade the items with other players.

Since those early days, loot boxes have appeared in some of the most popular games around, including CS:GO, FIFA 17, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and of course Overwatch. It is perhaps the latter which has caused a recent explosion in interest in loot boxes given its massive popularity and the cultural capital that comes with it, but with attention comes scrutiny.

The thing is, loot boxes are gambling. There are no ifs, buts, or maybes; they are gambling, and yet they’re not being regulated as such. You’re paying real money but have no idea what you’re going to get, with the real possibility you end up receiving something totally worthless or that you already own! If you’re buying a ton of loot boxes to try to get an extremely rare item, you’re not playing a video game anymore — you’re becoming a gambling addict.

We hear tons of horror stories of people who spend nearly their entire lives at the pokies, gambling away the last of their savings in the vain hope they will win something. But pokies are regulated. You need a licence to operate them, and to be over 18 to play them. Yet anyone can buy a copy of Overwatch and start buying loot boxes, even children.

If some of this is sounding familiar to long time readers, it should. Last year I covered the CS:GO Lotto scandal, where two YouTubers were found to have been operating a skin gambling website and promoting it without disclosure. I stated at the time that said scumbags “got young people to think gambling skins was not only okay, but it was a fun and easy way to make money.” Well, turns out the problem runs even deeper, as do the levels of greed; in the case of Overwatch, the items aren’t even tradable, so you are literally giving Blizzard your money for fuck all.

Loot boxes exploit that addictive part of our brains in the same ways as pokies and casino games. These kinds of practices do not belong in the video game industry, solely because so much of the customer base is young and impressionable. If you want to gamble, go to SkyCity, and please keep this crap out of my video games.

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