As the video game landscape continues to evolve, increasing in size and scope, so too do its production costs. So the implantation of in-game purchasable goods was inevitable, of course, but as time goes on, these predatory tactics are harder to spot. So what exactly differentiates a small purchase of random chance from a gambling addiction waiting to blossom? Firstly, we should lay out the differences between a microtransaction and a loot box. A microtransaction is commonplace in society and you may not even notice it; an extra sauce packet for 5p at Domino or an extra lick of butter on your scone. If you ever pay for an optional extra, it is technically a microtransaction, something that enhances an experience. The same is true in video games. Gaming companies implement them to make increased profit from their products, just as a cafe would with their handcrafted scones. The loot box, however, is a different kettle of fish. Where with microtransactions you typically know what you pay for, a loot box is a game of chance, a chance to get that item you may so sorely desire. A paid chance, mind you, and if you don’t get what you want? Well, it’s another ride on the train of chance for you. And from that, it is clear to see where the claws of manipulation take root; find a person who is willing to pay again and again for that elusive “skin”, and there you have a gambling problem. In a casino, only adults can spend their wages on a fruitless goal. Video games, however, seldom require an ID and so have access to a whole new market previously untouchable. Children.
The issue of child gaming is something that doesn't seem like a bonafide problem but the emergence of loot boxes has caused a serious rise in this issue. The disproportionate chances of success cause a serious imbalance of chance encouraging a child to keep paying and playing, unfortunately right into the company's pockets. This, of course, is barely the fault of the child itself. Many games will influence specifically children into buying them. For example, Mario Kart Tour, the 2019 mobile game. Everybody knows Mario, a favorite with adults and teens, but especially children. So, a child downloads the game only to find he cannot even play as the titular character himself unless, of course, they take a chance, a spin on the wheel of chance in the “Lucky Pipe”, so cleverly designed with the visuals and sounds of a staple Mario item. But of course, the rub, to “shoot the pipe”, a clever way of masking the opening of a box, the child must fork out Mummy and Daddies credit card for “rubies”; again a sneaky way to mask their true purpose, cold hard cash. And when the significantly lower-brow “Baby Peach” pops out, what can a child do but pull again? It’s this shady hiding of truth and illusion of chance that clearly shows the heinous nature of these boxes. As such, in the spirit of chance, in Mario Kart some characters have less than a 1% chance to appear, good luck getting Luigi now kids!
Technology will always be faster than the government; it’s comparable to a computer and a hammer. The hammer tries its best to stamp out a problem, but its swing will always be slower than a computer process. The government can try to stop this child gambling extravaganza in video games for children, but there are hurdles. The internet, and so too, video games are constantly changing. It was only in September 2019 that the House of Commons finally reached a decision and made recommendations on Lootboxes stating they should be classed as gambling. Well, there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth itself, and so the proposal is simple, a regulation under the Gambling Act 2005. So why haven’t they done it, ban the boxes and save our children? Not enough evidence for some ‘academics’ claims; we do not know the full picture of the effect these boxes can have on our kids. It is, however, a poor claim when stacked against the gamer who spent up to £1000 a year hoping to gain a better team in the football game FIFA. How different is that really from placing a bet on a real football match; the game offers not even a chance of recouping your money. It is, put bluntly, a payment with no goods. Throwing your cash at code on a screen is nothing new, online shopping being an example, but it is a simple fact that loot boxes get you nothing except a number, a “skin”, a nothing. Is it really any wonder future-ready governors want to get them out of the hands of our children?
But game companies aren’t slow to dodge these regulations. In fact, they have been very proactive, with new sneaky methods and they won’t stop finding ways to reach an all-new market to sell to. And with such a broad demographic as children, dodging the parents is essential to breaking that market. The most recent dastardly trick is, of course, hidden behind a veil of good intent. Crash Bandicoot, for example, is a remake of a twenty-year-old racing game. Dear God, you must say, how could they fit tricks into a children’s racing game? Try adding the purchasable “Wumba Coins” a full month after the release of the game following promises they would not be purchasable through cash. The reviews were out, and parents had given it the all-clear, but they added it in an update anyway, a flat lie in the faces of consumers. Smooth. An older yet very potent trick could be found in Star Wars, with loot boxes so unfair, by simply buying them your chances of playing as Yoda go up from zilch to not much more. That’s right! Even to play the side character, Boba Fett, the purchase of a loot box with the character inside doesn’t even guarantee gameplay. The second game of luck must be played in a match; they had the audacity to also sell a skip on that long process of unlocking too. This may all seem confusing, but that is the point. If I or you do not understand a system in a Star Wars product, neither will a child. But the game company will be ever so happy to nudge them towards the easy fix, mothers pin number.
So what can we, the ever so powerless public, do to end the reign of terror these game companies hold over our children? We could riot. Not in a literal sense; it would be unacceptable to march down the street chanting about “boxes of loot”. Instead, we riot with our wallets and minds. First, we must follow the guidance of those more powerful than us, The Children's Commissioner, who warns of the dangers of loot boxes and class them as “dangerous” and threatens “financial harm”. The wise commission has spoken, we must protect our children with protest. Block out our money sources. Speak up against the boxes to our councilors, show them the harm, and get Lootboxes banned. They say good things come in small packages; trust me when I say the good in these packages is only found in the dirty hands of the game corporations.
Lootboxes are a scourge on our children. Hooking their addictive claws into their young, impressionable minds with colors to make them forget every purchase has a consequence on the parent’s bank account, not theirs. Not many things bring commissions and parents against the chubby, friendly face of Mario, except of course the evil loot box. It's time to stop this coordinated strike on our kids. It's time to stop manipulative tricks made to confuse the young and gullible. It's time to stop loot boxes, and their effect on the ones we must protect.