Loot boxes could help gamers, cost parents
In the latest video game trend, players excitedly click their way to a treasure box of sorts. Proponents say it improves the experience, but critics say it could loot parents’ wallets…or worse. We’re talking about loot boxes.
For 12-year-old gamer Lilly Hamnett, she turns to loot boxes to keep up with her older brothers, saying it gives her an advantage, allowing her to win items that can help her progress faster in a game.
Loot boxes, sometimes called prize crates, are digital treasure chests within many popular video games and are designed to help a player get to the next level. The cost can be anywhere from one dollar to 40 dollars or more for a bundle.
Lilly’s mom says Lilly buys hers with her allowance money saying, “She’s allowed to make decisions about how she spends her money and, so, she sometimes chooses to buy loot boxes.”
The boxes are popping up in all kinds of games. While players always get something, they don’t know what until a box is opened.
That’s what bothers Chris Lee, a state representative from Hawaii who says, “A loot box is a mechanism similar to a slot machine. It could be something of value. It could be something virtually worthless,” and likens the boxes to gambling. Lee says, “They’ve really been set up to exploit a lot of the folks out there who play games, especially those who are young adults who are not cognitively mature enough.”
We reached out to Dr. Timothy Fong, Co-director of Gambling Studies at UCLA, who tells us there’s not enough research to know if loot boxes can contribute to unhealthy gambling practices down the road, but he does say that video game addiction is very real and they’re doing more and more research on “Internet Gaming Disorder,” and emerging diagnosis. Dr. Fong says it’s important to remember that gaming should bring joy. If it’s impairing regular activities or impacting physical or mental health, contact a professional.
The World Health Organization is looking into loot boxes too saying, “Loot boxes may increase the intensity of gaming behaviors and, most probably, associated health risks.”
Representative Lee has drafted legislation in his state that will prohibit the sale of games containing loot boxes to those under 21 and require complete transparency when loot boxes are involved. He hopes other states will follow suit adding, “We expect this coming year there’s going to be bills introduced at the state level to create transparency and ensure oversight so that people are protected.”
The gaming industry doesn’t buy the concern. We reached out to the Entertainment Software Association which says, “Loot boxes are a voluntary feature meant to enhance the in-game experience and is not gambling.”
But one thing is for sure, game makers are taking notice of the loot box debate. Electronic Arts recently announced that loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 are free in the latest update. And Apple’s new policy says apps must now be transparent about the odds of attaining randomized goods, before consumers actually purchase.
Lilly’s mom says her daughter is simply having fun trying to beat her brothers and, as a parent, she will take the lead when it comes to monitoring her daughter’s spending adding, “I don’t think that needs to be left up to a third party. I think that’s about teaching your kids how to be responsible and that’s something that should be taught at home.”