Any legislation banning loot boxes will be against freedom of speech, implies Take-Two CEO. Strauss Zelnick undoubtedly has the most outrageous reply to legislation banning loot boxes in the USA. In an interview with Business Insider, he said:” That’s just not gonna happen. That would just be horrible law in a country that has the First Amendment.” How exactly does a law that legislates for corporate responsibility infringes upon freedom of expression? He failed to explain.
Loot boxes originate from freemium games. Players relied on chance to get in-game items. Sometimes, you would have to pay for that chance and sometimes it would be a mix of paying for it and playing for it. But it has become a major point for discussion ever since freemium loot boxes entered paid AAA video games.
Gaming giants like Take-Two, EA, 3K Games and others have been at the center of the “Loot Box” debate. These mechanics have appeared increasingly in games during the last five years but this doesn’t mean they are popular. They have frequently been the reason for backlash from players, as seen in the case of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 2. It is a cause of concern for parents and politicians because some argue that they are a form of gambling.
This view has some traction as two countries have banned loot boxes. Republican Senator John Hawley announced that he will present a bill which would make loot boxes illegal. He went on saying that the psychological harm that loot boxes were causing to the players was significant enough to warrant this move. Loot boxes do have some elements which resemble gambling: You wager something of value(your in-game effort/ real life money) and rely on chance to get your reward.
The Entertainment Software Association is an organization that dedicates itself to “serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish computer and video games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet.”, according to its website.
The President of ESA replied with “Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling.”
The response of CEO of Take-Two, Strauss Zelnick has been similar: that since there aren’t real life rewards for it, it isn’t gambling. EA’s response was even more laughable, they tried to shy away from the issue by attempting to rename loot boxes as “Surprise Mechanics”.
There is a growing market for in-game items, where people pay real life money to get in-game items on chance. There are also games where players can cash out such as Counterstrike, PUBG, and DOTA2. Loot boxes are essentially slot machines, it’s a game of chance but unlike slot machines, there is a guaranteed reward, although you may not like the reward so you try again, and again.
Apart from this, the fact that a large demographic of gamers are minors does make one think if this is going to cause an addiction to gambling. Australia’s Commission for gambling and liquor regulation believes so and advised the government to categorize video games with loot caches under “Mature.”
They said this because loot boxes could cause “gambling disorders”. Phil Spencer, Xbox leader, and ESA board member has another solution to this: educating gamers about how loot boxes work and then let them decide. This seems to be a rather condescending reply as it implies that people are too dumb to get how it works.
But one thing is evident, either these boxes have to go or a better additional monetization system much be created. If that doesn’t happen, the sentiments of gamers will continue to be against loot boxes.