It appears that loot boxes and microtransactions are back in the news again, huh? It’s amazing how some people will stick to what they believe no matter how much evidence you provide them showing what they believe is incorrect. This isn’t logical, but emotional. It is also intellectually dishonest. There is nothing virtuous in continuing to bang the drum for your cause once you’ve been shown that your cause is wrong.
This is where we are right now with loot boxes. As with any topic, unfortunately, there are people on both sides of the spectrum with the logical people left in the middle. The two main issues now are whether they are inherently wrong and if they are gambling. To be fair, I won’t say that there are no people who think microtransactions and loot boxes are awesome. There surely has to be some with the sheer number of people in the population, it’s just that they are most likely in the minority. There are issues with microtransactions, don’t get me wrong. Companies have messed up in the past, including Electronic Arts as the biggest culprit. In fact, they were rated the worst company in America two years in a row due in part to their practice in DLC and microtransactions. Battlefront II releases next month. It turns out that this is going to be as close to a pay to win game as you can get. Unlocking skills, perks and more are all done through loot boxes. I agree with most that this is messed up, and I’m all for changing the way this works.
What we can’t do is try and pigeonhole the entire system because you don’t like the way the bad elements are implemented. When you judge the entire system on one instance, you hurt the ones that do it correctly. This is a purely emotional reaction, and therefore illogical. It’s like when you are at work and there’s “that guy” who always messes up. Just address the one who screws up rather than punishing everyone. One extreme is that every process with loot boxes and microtransactions are completely cool. No harm, no foul. Very few people believe this I would imagine. The other side is the one which appears to be making the rounds the most recently. It’s currently leading the charge in the “Whoever yells loudest must be right” contest, but we unfortunately know this to be wrong. At least, if you are logical you do. This other extreme side is the one who wants to ban all microtransactions (yes, even in full priced games) and classify them as gambling. The complete and total lack of logic in this astounds me. Not only are they trying to tell independent companies how they should handle their business, they want to change the way the very business is classified because of their own, personal feelings. Well, facts don’t care about their feelings. Opinions and feelings can be wrong when they are contradicted by evidence which directly disproves them, and this is one of those times.
A couple months ago I wrote about how Middle Earth: Shadow of War was doing the microtransaction thing the right way. Just to recap, the game allows you to buy loot boxes in order to unlock gear for the game. Every single thing you can unlock is available to earn while playing. You can purchase it with in game currency, but there are also real cash options. No matter which one you choose, the gear is still available to earn while playing. Every. Single. Piece. It’s fine if you don’t want to buy loot boxes. Nobody is forcing you. Sometimes I buy them, whether in full priced or FTP games. Who are you to say people shouldn’t be able to buy loot boxes with their own money (real or in-game) when it only impacts their game? I couldn’t care less if you want to drop a C-note on sweet ass loot boxes to get all the Shadow of War gear. It’s your money and it doesn’t affect my game. Go ahead, get down. On the flip-side, you shouldn’t bitch about how I spend my money. Are you my dad? No? Then zip it.
Multiplayer games are a different animal. I understand this as I mentioned above, and there are games that have royally screwed the pooch. Simply because some of them are utilized horribly (cough, cough, Battlefront II, cough), doesn’t mean that they all are. This is an obvious statement. There are some things that are just bad. Like socialism. And the Suicide Squad movie. Microtransactions as a whole are not one of those. The system used in Battlefront II is awful. I’m with you on that. There is no reason you should be forced to spend real money to unlock skills or level up a character, and I hate it. THAT is locking the main game behind a paywall. I think we can all agree on that. The slogan that EA uses with “Gamers first” I swear was made up solely to troll us.
I don’t buy real cash microtransactions in multiplayer. I’m not against them, I simply prefer to play the game. Since I have the time to play, it’s more personally rewarding if I do it myself. As with single player games, I don’t care if someone else wants to drop a couple of bucks for some new guns or armor. Nor should you. Maybe they don’t have the time to play like you. Maybe they just feel like it.
I mentioned above that many people believe that all microtransactions in full-priced games are wrong and/or bad. This is a 100% wrong opinion for many reasons. Some? Yes. All? Nope, you’re wrong. You still have to play the entire single player campaign in Shadow of War whether you buy loot boxes or not. You can’t skip any content with it, and it on my affects your own game. Therefore, you don’t have a leg to stand on since all the company is doing is providing the player another option. Is Psyonix doing bad things by charging $1.99 in Rocket League when you don’t have to buy the cars? If you maintain the opinion that all microtransactions are bad, this falls into that category. What about cosmetic loot boxes, are they bad too? Who cares if the developer gets to make an extra $5 if I want to buy a pack that makes my character wear a shiny, new premier skin? It’s a privilege that I am paying for.
Are season passes messed up too? At what point is a company allowed to make more money? Companies can do whatever they want as long as it’s legal. This is why there are ethics violations in business. You could make the case that Battlefront II is messed up ethically because of how the loot boxes are set up, and I agree with that. It’s not illegal though. You address the actual issue at hand in this case, not outlaw the issue altogether. It’s called context. Don’t buy a game if you don’t like the way it is set up. It’s your choice. If enough people do this, the company will see the hit and adjust their approach. They’ll fail if they don’t. Peace out. It’s called a free market economy people. It’s not new. You can’t make something illegal, however, simply because you don’t like it. Facts don’t care about your feelings.
Then there’s the gambling aspect. Microtransactions aren’t gambling, and you are wrong if you think they are. This is pretty simple stuff. Gambling implies the possibility of losing. Nobody loses with loot boxes. You may not get what you want, but you still get something. Playing Blackjack at a casino is gambling. You could win, or you could lose. That’s it. If you were always guaranteed to win money in Blackjack, just not get the amount of money you were looking for, this wouldn’t be gambling. Same for loot boxes. It’s the same reason that card packs aren’t gambling. You know, because you always get a card. If you are going to say that it’s gambling because you are “gambling” on the fact you get the card you want, then you are just missing the point completely. That would be the same as saying that simply buying the game is gambling because you are “gambling” on the fact that you can beat it. You buy a pack, you still get something even if it’s not what you wanted. You buy a game, you get a game even if it wasn’t the game you expected. Even the ESRB and PEGI say the same thing. The statement by the ESRB is as follows:
“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling. While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”
Pretty self-explanatory stuff right there. Forbes recently put out an article that presented a purely emotional stance as a logical approach. They included a lot of quotes to make it look all nicey-nice, but it’s all a mirage. The article mentions that China implemented rules showing the probabilities in loot box drops in order to solidify that they are gambling. China. There’s only one problem with this – China is a communist country. Their entire premise is that the government controls EVERYTHING, including businesses. The issue with this is you take away personal choice from the very people who should make this decision for kids – the parents. Using a political stance to try justify something you think should be legal or not is not a valid correlation.
OpenCritic CEO Matthew Enthoven made an even more ridiculous statement on the issue. He stated that:
The ESRB would say that violence is bad for society so violent video games get a higher rating. Gore is bad for society so gory video games get a higher rating. And nudity and cursing, those are bad so they get a higher rating. And yet something that really could have a serious impediment to the mental development of children, they’re saying ‘well it’s not technically gambling so we’re not going to make a stand here.’
This is horrifically wrong as he compares two completely unrelated items. The reason that games get a mature rating from gore, language and nudity is that they are part of the game. You can’t ignore F-bombs in games. You can’t ignore naked ass in games. You can’t ignore blood geysers when you hack someone’s head off in games. That’s why these earn games a mature rating. You can avoid microtransactions in games. It’s easy, just don’t buy them. The purpose of the ESRB is not to decide what society should see. It is for parents to decide what is right for THEIR kids to see. Enthoven is playing on emotions by saying “Well, these things are in games and earn a mature rating so this other thing must be as well”. It’s simply not true, and it’s intellectually dishonest. Enthoven should be ashamed of himself for issuing such a statement.
There’s also the argument about the children. Spare me the sob story of loot boxes being designed solely to prey on children. If you think that companies are sitting in their offices thinking about how to corrupt the minds of young kids then you have more problems that need to be addressed. You also probably need to speak to a professional. They are there to make money, that’s it. This is always the fallback argument. People have a soft spot for kids, and rightfully so. It’s why they are used as pawns in this illogical argument. Do I really need to point out the hypocrisy of wanting to protect the kids, but then turning around to use those same kids in an illogical attempt to prove a point?
There are a couple different aspects to this argument. One point is that kids shouldn’t have access to buy these real money microtransactions in the first place. What the hell ever happened to being an adequate parent and raising your children the right way?
Put a block on your account. Hide your password. Talk to your kids. Hug your kids. Love your kids. Raise them the right way. Will kids still screw up? Sure. They’re kids. They all do at one point or another whether it’s big or small. Hell, a lot of adults screw up more than kids. You know why I didn’t screw up as much as I could as a kid? It’s because every time I was going to do something, I pretended my father was over my shoulder watching me. What his reaction would be would determine if it was the right thing to do. All we can do as parents is hope that we give them the proper guidance and they follow it. If they mess up, we as parents need to find out why. Is it our fault because of something we did, or were they just doing stupid kid shit? A little kid shouldn’t be playing Call of Duty anyway, let alone be buying its loot boxes.
As far as adults go – you’re adults. Have some self-control. A writer at Kotaku this week wrote that he has a gambling problem and video games are at fault. Really? What about a little personal responsibility? Addiction is solely the result of personal choices. You can cure it with literally zero medical treatment. Get a support system around you. Gain a little bit of willpower and self-control and you’ll be just fine. It’s not beer’s fault if you are an alcoholic. It’s not the weed’s fault that you’re in NA. It’s not the casino’s fault you lost your mortgage payment at the Roulette wheel. It’s not the loot box’s fault you dropped two large on your Microsoft account. It’s your fault.
Forbes even goes so far as to try and say it’s gambling because it works on the same part of the brain as gambling. Their comment is as follows:
While it’s true that, unlike a slot machine, a loot box will always result in some form of a prize, that doesn’t change the fact that the simple act of opening loot boxes is incredibly similar to gambling, and taps into all the same parts of the brain.
PC Gamer recently tried to get in on this as well. They published a very selective worded article titled “Behind the Addictive Psychology and Seductive Art of Loot Boxes”. The article cites a study using dopamine as an example. It states that:
“We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”
Now, first we had the correlation of unrelated issues using emotion by OpenCritic’s CEO. Now, we are trying to use science and twist it around to fit an agenda. It’s a funny thing about science, you can’t twist it around. It is what it is. What Forbes and PC Gamer fail to state is that many things trigger dopamine. Forbes even tried to compare the effect to opening a Christmas present. You know what else triggers dopamine? Things like watching sports, exercising and having sex.
The Christmas example is an emotional reaction, and an irresponsible one at that. It uses a vastly different type of exciting event in order to prove a direct correlation. The intent behind a statement like this is one of two things: 1) Intentionally trying to manipulate people to your side of the story emotionally, or 2) You’re uninformed and throwing out random ideas. Both of these are wrong, and the first one is also immoral. I fail to understand how people can use an immoral/illogical argument in order to try and prove something else is immoral/illogical when it’s not simply because they don’t like it. Accuse your enemy of that which you are guilty, I guess.
This is such an easy topic. In fact, every topic should be an easy topic if you take emotion out of the issue. It’s the only way to ensure you’re actually right. The issue with making an argument based on emotion is that you’re always going to have that “Yeah, but” reaction. Emotional arguments are incomplete and lack all of the information needed to be informed. It’s based on feelings, just like this gambling thing. Facts are more important than feelings. If you make a rule/guideline/law (insert other synonym here) based on feelings, it is inherently flawed from the start. Why would anyone want to make a decision or institute a rule when they don’t have all of the information?
I pride myself on being logical, and it’s ok if I’m wrong. If you are going to tell me I’m wrong, however, you better come with all the information. It’s an easy process, actually. If someone asks you something and you don’t know, say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”, then go find out the information needed. Nobody will fault you for that. Make sure you find out everything, even if you don’t like the result. Avoid knee jerk reactions. Admit when you’re wrong, stand true when you’re right. Once you find out all of the info, your response is either “Wow, cool I was right” or “Huh, waddaya you know? I was wrong. Crap. Well, at least now I know”. It’s called research and experiment. You know, the same thing science does. The sooner people do this and actually avoid emotions in making snap judgements, the sooner they will learn the truth about whatever issue they are researching and grow as a person. You know, just as with these microtransactions.
Michael lives in New Jersey with his three children and beautiful wife, who for some reason is cool with him talking about games as much of his free time as he can.
In his spare time, he likes to ponder questions such as “What would happen if Pinocchio said my nose will grow right now?”
He is also the most logical person you will ever meet.