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Microtransactions and Loot Boxes Aren’t the Devil and They’re Not Gambling

virtue signal loot box

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.

Oooh Shiny! Guess I need it

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.

Here’s Looking at you, EA

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.

Silver? Sounds valuable. I should use my food money to buy it

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.

Usually how it goes

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.         

 

mikeboccher
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.

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    23 Comments

    1. nothing can ruin game immersion quicker than a loot box.

      1. then don’t buy them

      2. Agree 100%

      3. I love loot boxes…it’s always interesting to see what you get. Doesn’t kill immersion at all

    2. Very well written article and spot on. All these idiots that want microtransactions, DLC and loot boxes banned will also be the first idiots bitching when their game prices are hiked up from $59.99 to $69.99.

      1. “Spot on” only if you were looking for a foolish opinion on the subject. And all the little gifs stuck in there kinda prevent the “well-written” bit.

        1. I thought the gifs were amusing myself and the article is actually really well thought out and a very well presented argument

          1. That explains a lot.

            Here are some very simple bottom lines: particularly in full-price games, microtransactions are a cash grab. The way they’re implemented in an increasing number of games is rather ridiculous, and I’ll admit even some of my favorite franchises are guilty(BlazBlue, right off the top of my head, which used to have unlockable palatte swaps; now, not so much). In some games, like Battlefront II, they’re giving people a competitive advantage, and that’s absolutely deplorable. And you know why that’s happening?

            Because microtransactions are being supported in other ways.

            The only reason stuff that bad exists is because smaller “evils” were allowed to flourish. Let those go, and devs/publishers want to see how far they can push consumers. Since it seems there’s no shortage of gamers who will defend anything: andvantage-supplying microtransactions it is!

            As for loot boxes in general: you aren’t guaranteed to get the thing you want, so it IS gambling. Whether or not it’s the same TYPE of gambling as a slot machine is irrelevant. You’re handing over something of value for an uncertain return. For your five bucks, you could get something only four other people out of a million have…. or you could get something you already have a hundred of.

            That’s a gamble.

            Kinda hard to argue against that.

      2. I’m from Ireland, and I look at prices between €70-75, with 75 being around $88. And yet I would be much more willing to accept an increase in price for the base game, without having lootbox/microtransaction nonsense.

      3. Why do game prices need to get hiked up?
        Is that what YOUR game company tells you is REALITY??
        Then how did ATARI and a bunch of other gaming companies make BILLIONS in today’s dollars by simply putting out good quality games on a consistent level with no add ons or anything you ARE BEING SOLD today to think you NEED??
        I don’t think lootboxes should be BANNED…but I think that all these android n console games that USE THEM should be RECLASSIFIED as ADULT…and be placed in the appropriate section in PLAYSTORE and such.. and you would need to be 18+ to buy or whatever is legal in your local area…and THAT IS EXACTLY what these gaming companies are trying to avoid by paying off these so-called regulation groups to REDEFINE GAMBLING…plain n simple.

        1. Game costs have gone way up in the past few years as games grow increasingly more complex and realistic and, in many cases, require a huge infrastructure for online play. If you understand how economics work it’s easy to figure out that when the game companies spend more on games they are going to have to make that money back in some fashion.

          Right now companies are doing well in many cases using DLC, loot boxes, microtransactions and other ways to deflect those costs from being passed on to all gamers via an across the board price hike of the game cost.

          As for Atari, take a look at Pitfall from Atari on the 2600 and compare it to Tomb Raider for Xbox One/PS4 and that should tell you all you need to know..

    3. Only an Xbox fanboy could defend this bullshit ????

      1. Perhaps you should read the article and not just skip to the comments. You may have noticed it multiple times that some are bad, but clearly not all

    4. “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.”

      Even this guy gets there’s a problem with the practice.

      “This other extreme side is the one who wants to ban all microtransactions (yes, even in full priced games) and classify them as gambling. ”

      There are people who want microtransactions banned in full priced games, yes. But ‘even in full priced games’ is utterly idiotic. Free to play games are obviously going to require microtransactions to make money. For my part, I’m not looking for someone to come in and ban them. I’m looking at what does them and choosing to spend my money elsewhere.

      “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? ”

      When design practice is done in a way to increase the grind to motivate the purchases of the loot boxes, then it makes gaming a crappier place for people who’d rather not avoid the grind. It’s like the author of this article has failed to look in to the arguments of the opposition at all.

      “I don’t buy real cash microtransactions in multiplayer. I’m not against them, I simply prefer to play the game.”

      There might be people who agree with that line, and I’d ask.. Why? Well I wouldn’t care tbh if not for the above thing to be honest. One can do what they want and will.

      “What about cosmetic loot boxes, are they bad too? ”

      No, and it should be self evident as to why.

      “Are season passes messed up too?”

      No. It’s extra content and the work should be compensated for.

      “Companies can do whatever they want as long as it’s legal. This is why there are ethics violations in business.”

      This is true, but I wonder how people who are on the pro loot boxes side would feel with any examination on the loot box practice found that it should fall under some type of regulation.

      “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. ”

      And this is what many of us will do.

      “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…. 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. ”

      Do you agree with this?

      “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.”

      *rolleyes*

      OpenCritic CEO said this “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.’”

      Article says “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.”

      Yet how often do we hear about kids who bought mutl thousands on microtransactions on their parents phones or consoles. Kids don’t have sense for this, and sure parents should prevent it but not all parents are going to be tech savvy enough for it. Does that mean I think they should be banned? No I think they should just not bloody well do it.

      “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.”

      Solely? No. Just a ‘happy’ side effect.

      “Addiction is solely the result of personal choices.”

      Can be personal traits too. Some people just get addicted to things easily and need to do more to avoid falling in to bad routines, habits, etc. and this very thing is an easy cash grab from such people.

    5. i didn’t read the full article (as I didn’t have the time).
      But i don’t consider loot boxes gambling.
      If your definitions were the absolute case in all contexts then every solitary action in life is a ‘gamble’.
      Ever bought fruit from a shop to find its rotten when you eat it at home? You knew the risks of the product, but that’s fruit, sonetimes you risk money on these things.
      Ever eaten junk food before? I wonder what the odds of promoting diabetes and bowl disease every time you have chocolate cake. You’re gambling with your health.

      BF2s loot boxes have limited spending appeal, because there’s only so much to purchase (that is freely aquirable). Unlike Casino’s with a never-ending promise of money.

      1. You answered it yourself “If your definitions were the absolute case in all contexts then every solitary action in life is a ‘gamble’.”

        However it’s NOT MY DEFINITION, it’s THE DEFINITION from Meriam Webster.

        Therefore, YES EVERYTHING IN LIFE IS A GAMBLE. Me walking out my door to go to work is a gamble. I could trip & die instantly. I could make it to the curb & a car flies outta nowhere & pastes me all over the road. I could win the lottery for life or not. It’s all chance. Life is an ABSOLUTE OF CHANCE. There is no guarantee that you will even be born. HOWEVER IF you are born there is a guarantee you will die because life is finite. There’s no escaping death. You can avoid it for awhile but eventually we all die. But again we may not ever be born(bad sperm, bad egg, still birth, aborted).

        Aaaannndddd I’m done.

        1. So case in point then, loot boxes aren’t legally gambling.
          ‘Gambling’ to my understanding of the law more specifically refers to playing against odds for monetary gains.
          That’s an endless persuit, and the type that ruins ppl consistantly

      2. loooool bro.. give up… those aren’t HIS definitions they’re the actual definitions… you cant be this dumb surely!? loool

        1. Granted i rush type on a phone on work breaks, but it doesn’t matter who’s definition it is. My point stands either way.

          Everything in life is a gamble.

          But we’re talking about the law here.
          Whereby gambling is defined in a specific context.

          Loot boxes are not gambling by any comparison to current laws
          Sorry my friend

    6. The creator of this article needs to go back to school to learn English. The Dictionary definition of gambling:
      The activity or practice of playing at a game of chance for money or other stakes. The important word here being chance. I rest my case…

    7. If it isn’t GAMBLING aka GAME OF CHANCE…then how did they ban PINBALL for over 30 YEARS??

    8. ^The above article paid for by M$FT™ Corporation. All rights reserved®^.

    9. It’s a gamble. So long as you are taking a risk that you won’t get what you want, it’s a gamble.

      You can stop now.

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