Freitag, 20. April 2018

Game Monetization: Loot Box controversies

In 2016 Blizzard's game Overwatch was very successful with their loot box monetization strategy. Player could earn loot boxes in game (or more quickly purchase them with money) that contained cosmetic items to enhance the visuals of their in-game avatar.
Loot boxes can contain anything digital - from powerful boosters to extra in game currency or fun items. While a randomized looting system is nothing new to games, paying extra to get more loot boxes became increasingly popular over the last years and changed game mechanics to accommodate the use of loot boxes.

Embed from Getty Images

 Loot boxes have been around since about 2007, they swamped the blockbuster/mainstream game market in 2017, leading to criticism and scrutiny. There are two main reasons for this criticism:
Loot boxes in full price games can lead to the feeling that a full price game cannot be played without paying more after purchasing the game. Some mainstream games changed their design to make loot boxes more popular (Like Warner Bros Shadow of War, which is a full price game but lets the player pay to save time in game. Why would players want to skip in game time, that they paid for? If the design of some in game steps is made tedious on purpose, paying for a short cut to experience the whole game starts to look promising.)

The main controversy for regulators is the mechanic of the loot box: Essentially, they can be viewed to use gambling tactics and therefore should be regulated, since gambling is addictive.
Opening a loot box is often garnished with impressive animations and sounds - to give the player a sense of accomplishment and reward - some loot box visuals go as far as mimicking slot machines.

Gambling essentially rewards players at random times. Our inherent need for rewards as well as our pattern-seeking behavior tries to predict the next positive outcome. Another draw in to gambling is the Sunken Cost Fallacy: If already a lot of time and money is spent, the player only feels fulfillment if s/he makes any kind of accepted reward back, leading to buying even more loot boxes / chips. Selective stories of people who "win big" (= get desired items from loot boxes in a few tries) are paired with mechanics like collectible sets.

One major difference is that loot boxes will always contain something positive (compared to casinos, that just take the money spent). In a sense, the loot crates can be compared to collectibles that are sold in mystery packs - like trading cards, which are not regulated.

Another issue is that usually loot box content has no value in the real world. (There are exceptions for issues like skin gambling - people using in game items to bet on game matches or taking part in lotteries, using their in game items as entry ticket, assigning a real-world value to a virtual item). See Skin Gambling.

In China, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands and the Isle of Man, loot boxes are regulated and considered gambling but many countries started taking a closer look.

In Germany loot boxes are considered to use gambling mechanics and can be seen as such. No minors should be exposed to advertising of them - but most games using loot boxes are rated 16+ and the games evaluated for the Research were not directed at or marketed for minors. Currently there are no laws addressing this issue (gambling is regulated, but if loot boxes are gambling is not written into law), but the research indicates, loot boxes are a case of gambling in Germany as well.

If the gaming world is lucky, the main stream market will self regulate, because the loot box system has led to social media disasters for the likes of EA and Warner Bros in early 2018 and some companies already backpedaled and took out the dreaded loot box again.


Quellen:

CBC Canada: Loot box brouhaha: Are video games becoming too much like gambling?, Artikel vom 29.10.2017, aufgerufen am 16.04.2018

Eurogamer: Are loot boxes gambling?, Artikel vom 11.10.2017, aufgerufen am 16.04.2018

Schedules of reinfocement with Skinner, C.B. Ferster, Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behaviour, 2002, aufgerufen am 19.4.2018

GameStar: Lootboxen - Landesmedienanstalten sehen Glücksspielgefahr, Verbot in Deutschland möglich, Artikel vom 05.02.2018, aufgerufen am 20.04.2018

PCGamer: The most downvoted comment in Reddit history is now a Star Wars Battlefront 2 mod, Artikel vom 5. März 2018, aufgerufen am 20.04.2018

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