Are lootboxes gambling? It seems like such a simple question, but it really isn’t simple from a legal or ethical standpoint, and the answer has a pretty big impact. According to the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, following reviews, lootboxes do not meet the legal requirements of gambling, thus freeing them from the scrutiny of agencies designed to look more closely into gambling-related issues.
In short, the argument hinges upon the fact that lootbox items cannot be exchanged for cash and thus do not qualify as gambling under the law. That having been said, it’s not an ironclad ruling which cannot be changed; indeed, it’s something likely to be debated extensively as more and more lawmakers turn a critical eye toward the practice. For the moment, though, New Zealand considers them perfectly acceptable and has picked a side in the ongoing battle.
Let’s review. Paladins, as it stands now, has a system wherein characters get cards that can be used to power up playable characters. You craft them or get them from loot chests. The game’s latest patch removes that restriction entirely, giving every player access to every card in the game. So far, so good. Except those cards also need to be ranked up from rank I to rank V, with rank V being the most powerful, and every card players already own will automatically be ranked at III.
How do you rank cards up? Why, by getting duplicates of the same card. Except the crafting currency is also going away, so the only way to get a rank up is by pulling the same card from (all together now) lockboxes. Needless to say, players have already cried foul on this system, claiming that it unfairly forces people into paying without actually improving the game experience. There’s a whole video down below on just how bad the math works out for players; it’s worth a watch.
Not everyone in the video game industry is shying away from lockboxes or denouncing them outright. Take-Two Interactive President Karl Slatoff took the side of the ESA by saying that he doesn’t consider lockboxes gambling and that the Red Dead Redemption 2 studio will continue using microtransactions going forward.
“The whole gambling regulator thing, we don’t view that sort of thing as gambling. Our view of it is the same as the ESA statement for the most part,” Slatoff said during a recent confererence. “That’s going to play its course, but in terms of the consumer and the noise you hear in the market right now, it’s all about content […] You can’t force the consumer to do anything. You try to do your best to create the best experience you possibly can to drive engagement. And driving engagement creates value in entertainment. That’s just how it’s always been and always will be.”
As the conversation over lockboxes continues to ramp up, a story of one teen who got caught up in online gambling and spent over $10,000 on video game microtransactions is drawing the attention of many — as is this scathing piece at Polygon taking EA’s poor apologies over Star Wars Battlefront 2 to task.
Most often, MMO Mechanics
articles focus on the gameplay mechanics that both make the MMO genre unique and those that diversify MMOs from one another, but this time I’m focusing on the mechanics that drive profit for the modern development studio and will discuss the lootbox phenomenon. Although the lootbox is by no means a new topic in the world of online gaming, the purchasing method has been under fire more than ever recently and has seldom faced the same scrutiny from the playerbase and wider media before now.
Recently it has been ArenaNet under fire for the particular way randomisation factors into purchasing Guild Wars 2 mount adoption licence skins. A unique combination of a highly requested and anticipated extension of a likewise highly requested and successful new game feature and the employment of lootbox mechanics has caused quite a stir in the game community, despite the fact that Guild Wars 2’s Black Lion Chests already employ RNG lootbox mechanics. In this article, I’m going to discuss why the skins were such an issue in the first place, evaluate ArenaNet’s response to the player outrage the skins caused, and ponder on the reasons why studios rely on lootbox mechanics in the first place.
Pretty cheesed off over Lord of the Rings Online’s
plans to stuff best-in-slot gear into lootboxes
with the upcoming instance cluster? Don’t hold your breath waiting for Standing Stone Games to back down.
The studio posted a couple of responses to the furor over the decision, basically justifying the move and indicating that no changes would be made. Executive Producer Robert Ciccolini posted this yesterday:
Our goal is that you can earn — while playing the game — all statistical bonuses that you can get from lootboxes. In the case of the vendor rings, they will also have a chance to drop in the upcoming raid. That drop can also upgrade, so upgraded rings will be possible to obtain in game. We realize that having a short period where they are in the lootboxes before the raid is available is not ideal, but players will be able to get upgraded rings in game. If players find other statistical bonuses in lootboxes that cannot be duplicated in game they should definitely bring them here.
Edit: One point of clarification; there are upgraded items in the raid that are better than anything a player can get with a lootbox.