Computer Games, Loot Boxes, and The Gambling Question.

I’m not sure if it was a tweet I replied to about Loot Boxes, or a previous blog post about computer games, but I recently received an email asking for an opinion on whether In-game spending should be regulated by gambling laws, and so-called loot boxes banned entirely for children.

While I didn’t have the chance to reply in the time frame needed, I also wasn’t sure if I had any thoughts or opinions to share.

So here is my attempt at forming some.

In my defence, most of my gaming experience is around playing Mario, or Sonic The Hedgehog. And for years, the iPhone has been the most up to date gaming hardware I owned, but that in turn gave experience of In App Purchases. In App Purchases (Referred to above as In-game spending), is simply the option of buying extra services within the game or app you’re using.

This I would argue can be a good thing. It can give the user a chance to try out software that would normally cost to try it out, or let them have basic functionality of the app, while keeping the high end stuff for people who are willing to pay for those services.
It can also be a bloody annoying thing, as anyone who plays an EA game on the iphone can testify to. (EG “Do you want to play this game quicker? Pay some money”).
Its that second point which could make in game spending a bad thing…

Adam Alter, in his TED Talk below talks about how media is getting rid of Stopping Cues. A stopping cue is basically a signal that it’s time to move on, to do something new, to do something different. And — think about newspapers; eventually you get to the end, you fold the newspaper away, you put it aside.
Netflix, works by removing the stopping cue that is the end of the episode. (Autoplaying onto the next episode). Netflix binging is officially a thing. We as a human race, are not good at stopping an easy or fun task without being told to stop.
I wonder what happens when people are playing a game, come across a stopping point, but have the ability to go on, even if at a price?

Loot Boxes, from what I can gather, is this, but the next level up…
In video games, a loot box is a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection of further virtual items, or loot, ranging from simple customization options for a player’s avatar or character, to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armor.
The contents of the Loot Box don’t have to be predictable.
It feels we’re now talking about gambling.
But not just gambling.
If you’re playing a game, and given the option of spending money to progress, there has been a lot of thought put in to get you to pay for that progress.

Its your willpower against expert user design.
Good Luck.


PC Gamer.

The Guardian.

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