Are loot boxes gambling? Who’s responsible for teaching and protecting kids from exploitative microtransactions (MTX)? These two questions are usually quickly, condescendingly answered with “no” and “the parents” respectively. I think the discussion is far more nuanced than that. Even in a good faith debate those questions seem shortsighted or just outright irrelevant. To me, the issues with the gamification of people’s spending habits won’t ever get solved this way. So here I am, ready to cut through the distractions.
Let’s start with that first question. “Are loot boxes gambling?” In a legal sense: no. You’re told you will spend money and receive something for that money. But should it be? I think so. Things are constantly changing in society. We’re always learning. Our perspectives are always evolving. This is no different. Again I’ll bring up the word “gamification”. To me if you’re gamifying people spending money that’s gambling. It’s manipulation for the singular purpose of triggering a compulsion loop and creating an addiction. If it wasn’t then these games would sell you every item individually for money, with no randomness. Loot boxes aren’t legally gambling…yet. The definition absolutely needs to change in order to protect people.
Which brings me to protecting and educating the kids. First off, it’s not just kids. Plenty of adults are easily manipulated into spending addiction. I just want to make that clear, because at times it seems like people would rather you focus on the kids and not understand that it’s an issue for adults too. Second, yes parents are responsible for their kids. No one is arguing on behalf of the government coming in and telling your kids what they can and can’t play, nor does the government itself have any desire to do that. That’s not the point. The fact of the matter is parents aren’t robots. They can’t be awake 24/7, always watching every single thing their kids do. Parents can (and should) teach their kids about loot boxes and MTX. That only goes so far. To me government regulation and parents protecting their kids are one and the same. Parents should be calling on their government officials to make laws for this. It starts by demanding we change the legal definition of gambling so that it’s crystal clear and includes gacha-like MTX.
I don’t believe all MTX are evil. Some of them come in the form of selling items directly to you (no randomness included) for the purpose of funding additional content for the game. But the morality and the reasons behind those are a part of a different discussion. The fact of the matter is we’re capable of electing competent government officials who can comb through this topic and decide what needs to be held to a higher standard. We can fund research for this. And we can do so without having to worry about the future of games like Overwatch and Halo.