By taking a closer look, one might find the underlying similarities between video games and gambling activities. Both video games and gambling are dependent upon a certain level of skill, strategy, and of course, luck.

In the last decade, we see the inclusion and rise of betting trends in the gaming industry. There are pros and cons to this. The inclusion of betting trends in the video gaming industry has helped multiple self-excluded gamblers reeling from the shortcomings of gambling.

But at the same time, we witness a rise in gambling mentality amongst children and adolescents. So, what makes video games so very similar to gambling? – the answer is Loot Boxes. Loot boxes are sealed, mystery boxes, which are to be bought with either real or virtual currency. These boxes contain an assortment of game items generated randomly.

Do Loot Boxes Belong to Gambling Activities?

The idea of the loot box emerged from loot systems in MMOs and role-playing games. Loot boxes are usable, virtual items that offer a random assortment of gaming aids. The items available in these boxes can range from customizations for the player’s avatar to vital game-changers such as weapons and armours.

Game developers introduced the concept of loot boxes to earn a profit off of free-to-play video games. Loot boxes and the practice of trading items for money in video games are known as “microtransactions.” 

Loot boxes appeared in the video gaming market during 2004 and became a sneaky way to generate revenue. Loot boxes generate almost 30 billion dollars in sales for gaming and app companies. Loot Boxes help the video gamers maintain a steady interest in the game that they play – offering them rare and exclusive items through the loot box reward system.

Free-to-play and full-priced titles have ever since used the loot box system to attract new players to spend money on desirable in-game objects. 

In the mid-2010s, the addition of loot boxes started getting criticized due to the ‘pay to win’ notion. Gamers who spent money on buying loot boxes had an added advantage over non-paying gamers, which led to the degradation of ethical gaming.

Loot boxes often work as a shortcut to pass a certain level within the game. Gamers often have to buy the loot box to clear the level. Sometimes these loot boxes are gifted as a reward for the successful completion of levels inside the game.

For instance, when the player levels up or clears a stage without dying or quitting, they are frequently rewarded with mystery boxes or loot boxes – containing special items. 

These boxes are sometimes given out during promotional events or as a reward for watching a game live stream event. Some of the loot boxes can be redeemed immediately, while the others require keys. Keys could either be collected during the game or, you will need to buy them with real-time or virtual money.

Multiple studies conducted on the gaming and gambling industries point out the similarities between the two. Independent research carried out by the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Plymouth discovered that loot boxes are psychologically and operationally similar to gambling.

Video gamers invest real-time money in the loot box system to level up their characters, which creates a sense of fulfilment and keeps the player devoted to the game. The psychological phenomenon is quite similar to gambling. The difference lies within the reward system.

In casinos, gamblers receive their rewards in real life, while in video games, gamers receive their rewards virtually. Moreover, the visuals associated with loot boxes closely resemble the appealing graphics of slot machines and roulette wheels.

The attractive graphics and enticing sound effects are undoubtedly modelled after the games available in casinos. All these factors add to the addictive nature of these video games.

It is established that loot boxes share multiple similarities with gambling. Video games are primarily “games of skill,” unlike casinos which fall under “games of chance.” This is why loot boxes do not come under self-exclusionary services, such as Gamstop or Gamban.

Gamstop is a free self-exclusion service that helps gamblers control their online gambling activities. Yet GamStop is ineffective in the case of transactions related to the games with loot boxes. Loot boxes are legally not considered gambling and hence exempted from UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission).

However, the government of the United Kingdom is set to review its gambling policies, and consider loot boxes as a gambling activity.  

Problems Behind Loot Boxes

There are multiple problems that arise due to the presence of loot boxes in widely played video games. Children and teenagers having access to such games face various problems such as overspending, addiction etc.

These games are also not suitable for recovering punters.

May Be Addictive

Reports suggest that many games promote loot boxes with time-based deals and collectable items. These tactics are most effective on impressionable teenagers, as they fear missing out on special deals and rare items.

Teenagers are often roped into over-spending on special items without realizing its consequences. The more they spend, the more invested they get into the game eventually leading to gaming addiction. 

Unsuitable For GamStop Excluded People  

Loot boxes are also harmful to gamblers registered under GamStop. Gamblers practising self-exclusion might fall back to their overspending habits trying to buy loot boxes in video games.

Gamblers reeling from the demerits of gambling issues often choose UK online casinos not on GamStop ban or video games to spend their time. However, the availability of loot boxes jeopardizes their attempt to restrict financial expenditure.

May Require Additional Control for Kids

The use of real money to buy these boxes creates compulsive buying tendencies amongst children and adolescents. Children often spend thousands of dollars on loot boxes without the knowledge of their parents via the credit cards registered on their Xbox or PlayStation.

There should be additional controls added to games with loot boxes so that they can stop unauthorized purchases made by children unknowingly.

The Most Popular Games with Loot Boxes

It is estimated that almost 20% of video games have loot box systems. A few noteworthy games containing loot boxes include...

  • FIFA 17 and 18

  • Star Wars Battlefront II

  • Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4

  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

FIFA 17 and 18

FIFA 17 and 18 are sports video games from the FIFA series. The game is developed and published by Electronic Arts and runs on the Frostbite game engine. The game is compatible with Windows, Xbox, and PlayStation.

The gameplay focuses upon football and has multiple new features such as attacking techniques, physical player overhaul, active intelligence system, and set-piece rewrite. FIFA 17 also announced a new single-player story campaign mode called “The Journey.”

The FIFA franchise offers loot boxes that can be obtained by spending real-world money or in-game currency. The loot boxes are beneficial for gameplay and give virtual athletes an advantage in the game. With recent controversies surrounding loot boxes, FIFA now allows gamers to see what is inside the loot boxes. 

Star Wars Battlefront II

Star Wars Battlefront II is the 4th major instalment of the Star Wars: Battlefront series released in November 2017. Star Wars Battlefront II has been developed by EA Dice, in association with Motive Studios and Criterion Games, and published by Electronic Arts. The game is compatible with Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. 

Star Wars Battlefront II is an action shooter video game explicitly modelled after the Star Wars Franchise. The game was heavily criticized due to its loot box monetization scheme. The game favoured players who purchased in-game items with real money, giving them a significant advantage over non-paying players – ruining the online gaming experience.

This game launched the whole debate – whether loot boxes should be considered as gambling?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was released worldwide in the year 2018. The game was developed by Treyarch and is compatible with Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

It is a sub-series instalment to the Call of Duty franchise and is a multiplayer first-person shooter game. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 also endorses loot boxes containing items that cannot be earned through in-game development.

The boxes can only be purchased with real money, and they also don’t protect the gamer from duplicate items. 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a popular multiplayer first-person shooter game that comes 4th in the Counter-Strike series. The game is created by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is compatible with Windows, macOS, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Linux.

The game pits two teams of terrorists and counter-terrorists against each other, with different gameplay-driven objectives. The game originally received positive criticism however, with the introduction of the Arms Deal update of 2013, the game received a huge backlash.

The skins offered within the game created a virtual economy due to their high value and rarity. Some sites opened up betting opportunities, allowing gamblers to bet on the result of professional Counter-Strike matches with skins. 

Valve and gambling sites faced lawsuits for promoting such matches and underage gambling. Strict actions were taken against gambling sites, and many of them ceased operations as a result. 

Concluding Thoughts 

To be an ethical gamer, one needs to be aware of the evils of overspending on loot boxes. Although items from the loot boxes give you an advantage in the gameplay at the end of the day, it damages one’s gaming prowess.

To build a healthy gaming community, players should comprehend the fine line between gaming and gambling.


* Article written in collaboration with our partner, IBG Media.