Lock Down Loot Boxes


Loot boxes in Overwatch entice players to gamble for new skins. (Source: Overwatch)

Even if you have not played video games themselves, you have probably heard of the loot boxes within them. Disguised as crates, pulls or chests, people spend up to thousands of dollars for the chance of getting unique characters or weapons in a video game. Although loot boxes are a good monetization strategy for video game companies, they should be banned because of the dangers they pose to players.

Some games implement loot boxes as a way to stay free-to-play on the surface, while still reining in profits from players. Many games with loot boxes are free and do not require money to play for a short amount of time, but eventually there will be a wall where it will be almost impossible to progress without buying a loot box. In-game tools and other mechanics that make the game a lot easier are locked behind these expensive loot boxes. For many who have already spent countless hours playing the game, they would buy the loot box. With each update of the game, more items are added to the loot boxes, continuing this cycle.

These loot boxes, however, have become detrimental to people’s mental health. Similar to gambling, when gamers buy them and lose (that is, by not getting the rewards they hoped for), they feel that they have lost something valuable. A feedback loop is created as they want to continue gambling or buying more loot boxes until they get their desired outcome. In fact, ScienceDaily has found that gambling activates the same areas of the brain that drugs and alcohol does. Aidan Ormsby (III), a member of the Boston Latin School Video Game Club, recounts, “In a [Counter-Strike: Global Offensive] loot box, you can open items that are worth real money because you can trade them with other users. Some of the rarest things in boxes can literally be worth thousands of dollars.” In this way, video games aggressively encourage their players to buy loot boxes in the hope that they will win an imaginary lottery to make an abundance of money.

The fact that there are no age restrictions on most video games worsens the impacts of loot boxes. Often, children are not mature enough to make good financial decisions. When coupled with the suggestive nature of these games to buy more loot crates for rare things, many children give in and spend hundreds of dollars on these games. This starts the cycle of gambling and becomes even more problematic as these same games are being marketed to children with friendly cartoon characters.

It’s no surprise that many video game companies are using loot boxes as a way to earn money. According to Statista, video game companies made 15 billion dollars from loot boxes in 2020 alone, and it is projected to grow to 20 billion dollars by 2025. William Liyuan (IV) notes that loot boxes are able to “compensate the creators while providing added benefits to players in game.”

Some argue that video game companies can try to regulate loot boxes by putting up age restrictions, the same way that casinos are age-restricted. Regulation, however, is almost impossible online since people can easily fabricate their birthday or ID. Without being able to effectively identify people’s age, these age restrictions are useless.

Video game companies, however, still need to make money in order to stay afloat. Many already use advertisements. Instead of making the user pay for rewards, other companies pay the video game developers to put advertisements in their game. While ads can become menancing and create a negative reputation for the game when they become excessive and unable to be skipped, they are still necessary for video games to continue being available to all consumers.

In place of the functions offered by these loot boxes, users can get paid DLCs, or downloadable content. DLCs are extra content available to players, but more importantly, they aren’t needed. DLCs can be anything from an original soundtrack to extra game missions. Bryan Ferreira (III) suggests that companies could consider adopting “skins and other [cosmetics] that do not affect [gameplay mechanics].” Cosmetics ensure that nothing is locked behind a paywall and things bought don’t provide any advantage that would “force” people into buying loot boxes.

Video games, a major source of entertainment among today’s youth, should remain a fun and accessible activity. Video game companies do not need to turn a carefree pastime into another pro-profit tactic.