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The Dangers of Loot Boxes

Loot boxes are just the latest solution to the “problem” of increasing profits within the gaming industry, but really they’re no solution at all.


On paper, they’re perfect. Monetise optional extras which can be earned through hard work or, for a small number of whales, be purchased. Fair enough, right?

But it’s pretty clear that in recent years, developers are pushing this system to the limit. Overwatch is the perfect example, where little tricks and annoyances have added up to a revolving door of opportunities and reasons to pay. Because paying for the game just wasn’t enough.

Legal but unfair

Developers started to look to online casino sites for guidance on how to monetise their games. But while those sites are obvious in what they are, and contain warnings to only use them for entertainment, Overwatch and the like are a little bit more devious.


You don’t have to pay for things if you don’t want to. But they’ll try every trick in the book to get you to open your wallet. Be it making everything seem like a collectable, triggering that need to complete the set, to making things basically locked indefinitely. You need tremendous luck to unlock content without shelling out.

Then there’s little things like making sure the premium box is selected when you open your lootbox page. Or offering up premium content pretty much every week of the year, giving those locked in the game’s cycle little chance to come up for air. Because when you play a game 40 weeks out of the year, for 30 hours a week, it starts to feel like almost good value to chuck the developers a few quid.

Battlefront 2 famously took it a bit too far, making everything almost impossible to unlock through hard work. Instead, they said unlocking the most basic of content with just 300 hours of grind would provide players with “a sense of pride and accomplishment”.

Luckily, the cool 667822 downvotes of that comment on Reddit hit hard, and EA reversed their plans before launch. It is now an excellent game, but some are still wary to even try it and, as we now know, Star Wars is no longer an EA baby.

Think of the Children

It’s an increasingly common newsstory: Little Timmy has got hold of his mother’s credit card and spent three quarters of a million buying Fortnite dance moves. Everybody has a good laugh in the comments, someone mentions putting a lock on purchasing powers, and we all feel a little superior to that family now having to sell said child on the internet just to make ends meet.


Happy ending all around.

But there’s a reason it’s becoming increasingly common. The gamification of DLC is very real, and it’s aimed at children. The types that say “this would never happen to me” are missing the point. It is happening to your child if they’re playing this game, they just don’t have access to money to spend. It’s still altering their perspective on how to enjoy a game, it’s still teaching them that there’s pleasure in meaningless unlockables.

Which is fine – I love trophies and achievements and there’s zero difference between the small pleasure of a digital trinket and the small pleasure of a new costume. Up until you have to pay to get it. Then it becomes a problem.

The Dangers of Loot Boxes – Conclusion

There’s a type – mostly American I find – that think companies should be allowed to get away with whatever they want. Real people, on the other hand, have all the responsibility of turning down all that temptation. Especially children and parents.

Wouldn’t it be easier to cut this problem off at the source? To regulate this nonsense before it continues to get worse? Why should we expect more from children than we do from multi-billion dollar companies?

Unless we solve this problem, it’s only going to get worse. “Just don’t buy it” isn’t a solution. It never has been.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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