Last year loot boxes became a controversial topic among gamers and concerned parents, leading several governments to consider measures against them. The controversy was prompted by the release of Star Wars Battlefront II, which featured loot boxes that were only accessible when players spent real money to purchase them. The loot boxes allowed players to gain access to items that would otherwise have taken many hours of gameplay to unlock. Many players argued that they were being forced to participate in a form of pay-to-win in order to enjoy everything the game had to offer.
Although loot boxes are not new to gaming, the contemporary form of loot box was introduced in 2016 with the release of Blizzard’s Overwatch. However, Overwatch managed to avoid the controversy that embroiled Battlefront by separating the loot box rewards from the gameplay. Loot boxes in Overwatch only contained aesthetic rewards, such as costumes and avatars. On top of that, while boxes could be purchased they would also be awarded to players for accomplishments.
Since Overwatch loot boxes have been appearing in more and more games, including: FIFA, Forza Motorsport, and Halo. They have become a major source of revenue for publishers who have gone on the offensive to defend the feature.
Yet most gamers continue to find loot boxes extremely frustrating. Not only do players generally have to pay real money to access the boxes, once opened they often discover that the box contains nothing useful to them. This has lead to players considering loot boxes no different from Sky Vegas betting or any other of the others.
The accusation has been carried to the highest level with members of Parliament in the UK bringing the question to game publishers during an inquiry last week. Kerry Hopkins, Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs at Electronic Arts, was asked if the company had any ethical qualms in relation to loot boxes, to which she responded in the negative. Hopkins went on to say that “people like surprises” and compared loot boxes to Kinder Eggs.
While the UK government has yet to make a decision on whether loot boxes should be banned or not, many other countries have begun to regulate the use of loot boxes within games, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and Japan. It is surely only a matter of time before the UK follows suit.