Students weigh in on loot box controversy in video games

January 30, 2018

Oliver Adon

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    “Star Wars: Battlefront II” was one of the most anticipated games of 2017. But because of the planned use of loot boxes, the game went from the most anticipated to most controversial.

    Loot boxes are digital goods sold by some games as a way to generate revenue. A player pays for the box, which contains a random selection of in-game items such as weapons, abilities, exclusive appearances, experience points or in-game currency.

    In “Star Wars: Battlefront II,” players had the option of buying the loot boxes with real money or earning them by playing the game extensively.

    Because the loot boxes contained abilities that could grant advantages to the player’s character, many gamers became concerned about people spending extra money to gain the advantage in multiplayer mode, a principle referred to by some gamers as “pay-to-win.”

    The community became so vocal about its aversion for this “pay-to-win” principle that right before the official release of “Star Wars: Battlefront II,” EA, the game’s publisher disabled the option to use money to purchase loot boxes.

    Junior film major Jordain Kelly says he regularly plays video games. The loot box system seems unfair to him.

    “There’s a lot of people out there who can just wail out money, tons of money, and then just get all these characters and upgrades,” he says.

    According to Kelly, his friends also agree that it’s wrong for people to be able to pay to gain an advantage in a skill-based game.

    “You can pay to be better. That’s not really right,” Kelly says.

    Sophomore computer security major Zach Hosier says that loot boxes can seem more appealing when a player has to accumulate many credits to unlock a character.

    “It’s kind of bad to do because everyone’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to play as Darth Vader,’  but then they have to pay like 80,000 or so credits in the game,” he says.

    When asked about whether they were concerned about the gambling aspect of loot boxes, Kelly and Hosier had different opinions.

    “I don’t feel like the majority of people that can put money into these loot box systems have enough money to get it to a point where it’s a habit where then you’d want to gamble,” he says.

     According to Hosier, there is definitely cause for concern.

    “You buy these loot boxes, you don’t know what’s in them and then you get a random item, you’re like ‘oh man I wanted this item,’ so you pay more,. So, I believe there’s a big gambling factor,” says Hosier.

    Gamers are not entirely opposed to loot boxes, however. According to Kelly, loot boxes are acceptable if they only contain cosmetic items.

    “Make products that are just worth it for people to buy, that again, don’t give them an unfair advantage,” he says.

    The controversy has even sparked talk amongst state representatives and gambling prevention organizations. According to BBC News, Rep. Chris Lee (D, Hawaii) condemned the loot box system for resembling casinos.

    However, the Entertainment Software Association does not consider loot boxes to be gambling because the system is optional and always gives a reward to the gamer, according to a statement published in Rolling Stone.

    “Loot boxes are a voluntary feature in certain video games that provide players with another way to obtain virtual items that can be used to enhance their in-game experiences. They are not gambling,” reads the statement.

    Whether or not loot boxes are considered gambling is still up to debate. Nevertheless, the situation has caused EA and other major game companies to reconsider how they generate revenue.