The Loot Box Crackdown & How It Affects Gaming

Star Wars Battlefront 2

The Loot Box Crackdown & How It Affects Gaming

One of the more common recent trends in gaming, particularly in mobile titles, is the idea of randomised rewards that can be purchased with real money. We’ve seen numerous titles take on this idea in recent years, from large, in-depth games like "Overwatch" and "Rainbow Six Siege," to smaller, less complex ones like "Fire Emblem Heroes" and "Fortnite." As the practice has become more common, though, concerns have been raised about the nature of these practices, and the potential for “pay-to-win” add-ons to become a considerable problem.

Now, lawmakers are starting to take notice. Countries like Belgium and the U.S. are looking into laws to regulate gaming add-ons, which could have drastic effects on gaming’s future. So let’s take a look at what these laws could do should they come to fruition and ultimately be emulated in other countries.

The Good

Let’s start on a positive note. After all, not everything about these potential laws is bad! There are some upsides as well. The first and most notable of these is that the laws are - for now - specifically targeted at practices that most in the gaming world have already expressed concern over. For instance, one case that kicked off lawmaker interest in the subject was EA’s disastrous handling of the loot box situation in "Star Wars Battlefront 2."

Prior to release, this game's beta’s incredibly predatory loot box system encouraged players at every turn to spend real money to unlock the more exciting characters, like Darth Vader. The only alternative was to spend almost 80 hours of loot box grinding to obtain such characters. It’s no wonder that EA’s poor attempt to assuage concerns regarding the issue quickly became the most-disliked Reddit comment of all time.

It’s specific situations like these that the laws are trying to tackle: predatory, grind-heavy practices that just about force players to pay extra money to get the most out of their games. In some of the worst cases, these issues could even skew gameplay fairness directly. A notable example of this was seen in the popular multiplayer shooter "Payday 2."

A microtransaction store was added to "Payday 2" in one of its updates, and with it came a slew of controversy. Some of the items that could be bought would directly increase stats, meaning that a player who spent real money on the game had a direct advantage over those who didn’t (as opposed to just a fun new feature or cool character). As you can probably guess, this didn’t go over well with gamers, and many were happy to hear that the law wanted a hand in ending it.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with these new laws is the simple truth that most lawmakers still have very little practical experience with gaming. What this may end up meaning is that the laws intended to take down predatory and unfair practices in these games may end up going too far. Some of the specific mentions included in the U.S. bill, for instance, are the following: games that sell characters as DLC, XP Boosts, weapons or perks, instances of gambling and more.

The problem becomes clear rather quickly: the bill is not only targeting predatory or pay-to-win transactions but is also going after most types of DLC or gambling as a whole. And we’re already starting to see its effects. Consider, for instance, the situation in Belgium, where they’ve acted quickly in implementing laws like these. The response from developers was rapid, as the companies behind games like "Fire Emblem Heroes" and "Dragalia Lost" essentially shut down services in Belgium, leaving gamers without add-ons they'd been looking forward to. Naturally, this paints a dark picture of what could come in the future, should more countries follow suit.

Then there's the gambling side of things to consider. For the most part, video game casinos exist in countries that are more hands-off about gaming in general: the UK has a busy industry, and New Zealand's sites for online slots are quite popular as well. But in a place like the U.S. casino gaming needs all the help it can get to go mainstream (or even become legal). It almost seems as if the effort to fight back against pay-to-win transactions is being used as an excuse for lawmakers to sneak in further restrictions on casino gaming. 

Some gamers may still believe that the pros outweigh the cons in this debate, on the grounds that these pay-to-win schemes simply need to stop. However, these cons are legitimate issues as well, and so it's clear that it's going to be difficult for a satisfying balance to be struck. 

More broadly, the world of gaming is in good shape right now, with all sorts of new experiences coming out all the time, communities growing, and revenues off the charts. This has potential to become a fairly significant storm, however, and if things go poorly it could cause a gaming market crash of sorts - or at least detract from the general good vibes that have dominated the world of gaming for quite some time now. 

Only time will tell what’s to come.