It’s fairly well known at this point that the ESRB recently stated that they don’t view Loot Boxes as gambling. Of course, a quick look at the definition of “gambling” should dispel that idea quickly. Let’s say I’m playing an online MMORPG in which I can buy loot boxes. In these loot boxes are items and skill points of varying quantities. Obviously, it’s rarer to get better weapons and more skill points than normal weapons and less skill points. Now let’s say I have ten dollars to spend on these loot boxes every couple months. I’ll get a couple nice items every year or so, but it’s far more likely than not I wouldn’t get anything too special. Now, for some reason or another, “whales” exist, people who sink ungodly amounts of money into games like this. If someone spent tens of thousands of dollars on loot boxes, getting all the best items and rising to insane levels, not only is that completely unfair to people like me, it is also gambling. Take a look at this:
While the first definition doesn’t matter for our purposes today, take a look at the second and third definitions. Loot boxes are definitely a “game of chance” if I’ve ever seen one, and both me and the aforementioned whale are betting a (wildly different) sum of money on said game of chance, and therefore both of us are, indeed, gambling. I’d also wager that spending several thousand dollars on a game is a risky action, one that is definitely in the hopes of a desired result.
So, with such a clear definition of this action, why oh why did the ESRB blatantly decide that in-game gambling isn’t gambling? Perhaps they meant to type “yes, it is gambling,” but their fingers slipped because their palms were just a bit too greasy. As most countries have laws that prohibit gambling before a certain age, it’s in the developers’ best interest to allow their game to be playable to people under that age. With the fat stacks of cash they’ve been getting (and will continue getting) from the whales, it’s not too difficult to imagine large companies sweetening the ESRB’s coffee so they’ll look the other way.
Of course, not all loot boxes are bad. In games like Overwatch and DOTA 2, where loot boxes only give cosmetics, there’s no advantage to be gained by sinking loads of money into the game, and therefore whales won’t be screwing over other players in these kinds of systems. However, the hypothetical MMO I described earlier is very, very real, and so are the problems caused by the loot boxes in it. Regular users can’t possibly compete with whales, and they should under no circumstances have to.