The gaming community has grown concerned with the increasing number of games that include microtransactions as mechanics to obtain new or unique items. Loot boxes or loot crates have become one of the most popular expressions of this strategy, and people have long debated whether or not they count as gambling.
Tired of arguing among themselves, some members of the community reached out to higher entities, and now reporters from both Kotaku and Eurogamer have obtained concrete answers from the ESRB and PEGI: loot boxes do not fall under the gambling category in video games.
Understandably, their reasoning has sparked even more debate in light of what that entails, specifically the fact that there is now less leverage to push for stricter video game regulation and reclassification of loot boxes as forms of gambling. Here are the arguments from both sides and what they mean to the community.
ESRB and PEGI: loot boxes are not gambling
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which classifies games in the U.S. and Canada, and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe through its Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system, have said that loot boxes do not constitute gambling because players are sure to get something in exchange for money.
For them, the concept of gambling implies the literal game of chance in which people might or might not get something in return for their money. Loot boxes, to them, are more akin to trading cards and collectible packs that always deliver some assortment of items, whether or not these items are the ones expected by the player.
As a result, the ESRB and PEGI limit themselves to tagging games that contain either Real Gambling or Simulated Gambling. Including these elements in games is somewhat toxic to developers and publishers, since they will get automatically rated as Adult Only content and won’t be sold in most major stores.
remember how Nintendo had to remove game corners in Pokemon cause of the ESRB but lootboxes are now okay
— NISA gets Sen III (@mrfeelswildride) October 11, 2017
Players: loot boxes are essentially gambling
However, the perspective from the players’ standpoint is different. They equate the loot crate system to slot machines, in the sense that people will actually try to get their prized item again and again until their expectations are met with a rare skin, weapon, or any other item.
More seasoned experts in the world of gambling suggest that loot boxes are, indeed, the same as gambling since the items you can obtain do have value outside the game, regardless of whether you can sell them for real money within the game or not.
The Gambling Commission draws the line here, of course, and blames the myriad websites that exist to promote and foster the exchange of rare video game items for real life currency. The regulatory body says it pursues these sites and that developers and publishers only get a slap on the wrist for not avoiding this from happening.
In the end, players are the ones who lose. Not only do they need to shell out the $60 price tag for an A-list game, but they also have to pay for a subscription service premium to play online and then spend more on top to gain rare items so they can remain competitive in the game.
Developers and publishers make money out of game sales and microtransactions for years on end, and black market sites cash in possibly more by selling these items on the side with no regulators to stop them from doing it.