Are Lootboxes Gambling?

I had a message on WhatsApp from a friend of mine in Japan, sending me a picture of 2K Games’ press release on the lootbox situation in Belgium with the comment “You might love/hate this” and, it actually got me thinking – and I’m not 100% on how I feel about this.

More after the jump – and a word of warning for those on mobile data, this post is fairly picture heavy.

This is the statement itself. The first thing I noted was that 2K Games disagree with the assumption that loot boxes violate gambling law in Belgium, in that it’s promoting gambling to minors – kids play the game so therefore it cannot contain gambling.

Therefore, the only thing they could possibly “disagree with” is the usage of the term “gambling” in relation to loot boxes.

Dictionary.com defines gambling as “to stake or risk money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance”. At this level, gambling certainly seems the right word for it.

I should add swiftly that Dictionary definitions and Legal definitions differ quite vastly and any act (such as the Belgian Gaming Act) will have their own specific definition for what gambling means. I’m merely using a dictionary to give a “common usage” definition as I’m not a lawyer and I don’t want to be writing a legal analysis regarding Belgian law. I want to, instead, examine a more grounded-in-the-community look at the issue.

This article is just the first of a short collection looking at the use of lootboxes within gaming, and therefore only scratches the very surface of the issue at hand. I’ll go into greater depth in future posts.

I don’t have access to NBA 2018 for screenshots, but let’s look closer to home, to Vainglory.

Here we see two lootboxes, the New Content Chest and the Summer Catherine Chest. Both of these are purchased using ICE, a currency that is available both in-game (rarely), and for real world money (at a value of about £2).

The text is blatant, “5% chance”, “2% chance”… These are not direct purchases of the items on offer, it is a payment to have a chance of unlocking the content advertised. In other words, players wanting the Summer Catherine skin are required “to stake or risk money, or anything of value (ICE), on the outcome of something involving chance”. Literally the definition of gambling.

Now, sure, these skins are available for direct purchase too, as below.

At 2599 ICE, that’s a real money value of around £17. The hero mentioned in the New Content Chest is available for 800 ICE (~£6) but, tellingly, not all skins or characters are immediately available for direct purchase. If you want these early, to the lootboxes you must go.

Vainglory isn’t alone in this. CnC Rivals requires players to spend gold and cards to upgrade their units and to request reinforcement chests to unlock new ones. Diamonds can be used to speed up the chest delivery time, or to purchase more gold if they’re running low. Everything here is available purely in-game, but real world purchases speed it up.

But that’s besides the point. The chests are still random, even if only using in-game currency – players are still “staking or risking something of value, on the outcome of something involving chance“. Even without real world money, it’s still gambling.

Finally, an example that poses a little more of a real world comparison and leads us to the real dilemma involved – Hearthstone.

Trading Card Games like Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic: The Gathering have been using the concept of booster packs for decades. The premise is that you purchase a pack of cards that are random. You’re guaranteed to receive the amount of cards in a pack, and to get at least one card of a certain rarity – but you may get something rarer and you don’t individually know which exact cards are in the pack.

Hearthstone follows this. You’re guaranteed 5 cards, of which at least one will be rare or better. This is where the gambling description begins to come apart.

If gambling is “the act of risking something of value on the outcome of something involving chance“, is it still gambling if there are guaranteed rewards involved.

In all of the above examples, the purchase of the lootbox does guarantee something. As such, is it really a risk of you’re guaranteed at least some amount of reward for your purchase?

The definition of risk states that it’s an exposure to harm, danger, or loss. If you’re guaranteed certain things in a lootbox, is it technically a loss if you don’t get the thing you were hoping for but do still get something?

If this doesn’t constitute a loss, then the definition of risk no longer applies – by extension, a lootbox is no longer “risking money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance” and is therefore not gambling.

I would assume that is this argument, or something similar that 2K Games (and EA, Activision, Blizzard, and Valve, who have also been found to be in violation) will be using to defend the practice.

There’s certainly an argument to be made for the exclusion and inclusion of lootboxes in games, and this is something I want to cover in more detail in my next blog on this matter.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that the BGC are right to classify lootboxes as gambling? Should gambling in videogames be banned or age restricted? Do you think that the BGC are wrong to ban lootboxes from videogames?

Let me know either in the comments below, or on Twitter @CaptBenzie

2 thoughts on “Are Lootboxes Gambling?

Add yours

  1. What kind of **** are u ?
    The chests for that are only for skins which absolutely don’t affect gameplay. Moreover those skins are worth their rarity. There are numerous giveaways to if u wanna claim them. N an alternate (orange) skin of tht is available through events. Those who wanna gamble on tht which has no effect on the gameplay whatsoever doesn’t make sense 😅😔

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m careful throughout the article to not give a personal opinion – so please be considerate in your responses and name-calling. In this post, I am merely contemplating whether or not lootboxes constitute gambling.

      However, I do need to address one point you make, that the “skins are worth their rarity”. Firstly, worth is entirely subjective and based exclusively on what someone is willing to pay for something. A man dying of thirst in the desert will put a larger value on a bottle of water than someone living in, say, central London. Secondly, obviously people ARE willing to use the lootboxes as they’re the main source of income for SEMC – they’re the constant and all new content goes through the boxes first.

      Whether or not it has any affect on gameplay is irrelevant to the discussion here at hand, which is asking the question, does a lootbox constitute gambling. I take it from your response that you believe that they are a form of gambling?

      Like

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