Loot boxes aren’t new, but their integration into the industry’s biggest games have rippled through the gaming community. Battlefront 2’s Star Cards is one of the most egregious examples as the benefits of them directly influence gameplay. Shadow of War’s version of loot boxes also caused an uproar as to why they were being integrated into a mostly single-player game.
Ask the average person about them, and you’ll often hear them compared to gambling. At the very least, they have a slot machine type feel to them. But there is one key difference. And it’s a difference the ESRB highlighted in an email exchange with Kotaku.
“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling,” an ESRB spokesperson said in the email. “While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want).”
The spokesperson goes on to compare it to collectible card games. How each pack has a chance to give you a card you really want. Or, you get stuck with some of the cards you already have. And it’s a good analogy.
The same concept is also at play in sports cards. My brother opens boxes of baseball cards all the time. Some rare cards have pieces of a players’ jersey or baseball bat. Others are just regular cards you collected as a kid.
The point is, you’re getting something inside every pack of cards or loot box. You don’t open a Rocket League box (or crate) and get nothing. Or a PUBG box. Or a CS:GO box. It’s not always what you want, but you are getting something.
Now, that doesn’t mean some loot crates aren’t complete BS. The perks you can get in Battlefront 2 are powerful. Rarer cards give you greater boosts to damage or let you recover more health when eliminating an enemy. Here’s one example of a Star Card giving an up to 20% increase in rate of fire.
You can earn these cards by purchasing boxes with real money or by earning them in-game. What we don’t know is how easily these boxes can be earned in-game. We’ll have to see how the system shakes out at launch.
Bottom line? Don’t look to the ESRB to regulate loot boxes out of the industry. There’s nothing inherently illegal about them. And publishers are looking to squeeze as much money out of their biggest games as possible to recoup costs and profit. Right now, loot boxes are the popular way of doing that.
Most of the time, loot boxes don’t bother me. As long as their cosmetics. Hell, I’ve unlocked plenty of Rocket League crates. The problem is when they appear to influence the core gameplay. If Star Wars Battlefront 2 wants to put different color lightsabers in a loot crate, I say go for it. But don’t tie the loot crates contents to a gameplay system. And don’t do it in a game that already costs $60.
Publisher execs want folks to play their games (and spend money on them) well after they launch. Hey, I would too if I was in charge. But, there are better ways of going about it. Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege is one good example.
Loot boxes might not meet the exact definition of gambling, but it’s easy to get sucked into the ‘one more spin’ mentality. Publishers view loot boxes as the best way to earn extra money right now. And that won’t change until we change.