Loot Boxes Might Contain Small Parts That Form a Choking Hazard - Digital Hints

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Loot Boxes Might Contain Small Parts That Form a Choking Hazard

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

/ by Nurdin Budi Mustofa
The usage of ‘loot boxes’ has been in the news a lot lately. These are in-game supplements that can be earned but are usually bought with real-world cash, which contain a random set of cosmetic, or even sometimes game-altering, upgrades. The key is that you don’t have any control over what the rewards will be, hence the randomness. You might end up getting the same item repeatedly and never that missing piece of the item you are after. It’s very reminiscent of those Panini sticker collectables where you had 10 Sol Campbell’s but no Paul Gascoigne, no matter how many times you got a new pack. It’s no different to trading card games, where every booster pack contained the same low-level cards. One could argue that Kinder Surprise Eggs follow the same concept as ‘loot boxes.’

So, the concept of paying for something that 1) you don’t know the exact outcome of and 2) resembles gambling in a way that you spend with real-world cash for that uncertain outcome, is not new, in fact, it has been around since the 1800s! Google ‘tobacco cards’ if you find that hard to believe. Tobacco products are obviously not kid-friendly, but baseball cards certainly were, and you can see the first ones produced in 1948 by Bowman. Panini introduced their first FIFA World Cup sticker album for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Kinder Surprise Eggs are manufactured since 1974.

Loot Boxes Might Contain Small Parts That Form a Choking Hazard
Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

Fast forward to modern day, Belgium and the Netherlands have deemed loot boxes in games as gambling for kids and therefore illegal. One could imagine that it's just a matter of time that there will be some form of restriction via EU legislation. Back at home, the UK Gambling Commission has ruled that loot boxes are not considered gambling, but it has expressed concerns about the practice of it in video games and says the lines between games and gambling are becoming increasingly blurred. It looks like there will be continued discussion for some time to come, but what has set it all off as it didn’t seem to be ‘a big deal’ in the past?

A fair share of the blame can be put on the avalanche of throw-away mobile and social games we have had the pleasure to experience over the last ten years. Remember FarmVille? A free-to-play game on Facebook that combined a low threshold to play and social element to gaming that became a smash hit. You might not have been that person that was spending real life money on it, but chances are you knew someone who did. FarmVille and similar games fuelled Zynga’s meteoric rise. And as smartphones became more powerful, many remembered the profitability of Zynga’s early days, which led to a flood of free games with in-app purchases. The list of free games on both the iOS and Android seem endless, with most of them, which you will only discover after spending some significant time in-game, unplayable until you pay in. You would think that most ‘gamers’ would be forever cured of this after encountering this pay-wall once or twice but think again. Candy Crush Saga makes around $1.3 million a day in the US. Likely more than half of that is kids who got hold of the tablet and just keep clicking that purchase button until a parent notices when they either check their game account or their real life one - maybe simply showing us how easy these things are spend on.

The ‘traditional’ triple-A game developers in the West took notice of the runaway success of in-app purchases and followed suit. Team Fortress 2 was the first big name game to incorporate the concept of loot boxes, called crates, which you could earn through regular play, but could speed up with real life money. After TF2, others quickly followed. FIFA, Counter-Strike, League of Legends, DOTA, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, and Star Wars Battlefront all had variants of the loot box system. Some put it at the center of the game, with the game being free-to-play and offering cosmetic upgrades, other made it more a ‘pay-to-win’ system.

What’s changed now is not only how much money goes around in the loot box side of the game industry, but also how rampant the ‘greed’ seems to be. If you are paying out for the game itself, but also need to pay for DLC and game-changing items, it is starting to feel that the balance between creating a good content-rich game and profitability of a game has vanished. The game community will complain and that in turn leads to additional scrutiny, which is not wholly undeserved. If you collected old baseball or Pokémon trading cards at least you had something physically in your hands, in rare cases it would even be worth money. Getting rare ones or duplicates would open the possibility of an aftermarket which extended the life of these type of collectibles way beyond the original intended purpose. With most of these in-game items, there is literally no production cost involved in generating additional ones, and they usually can’t be traded between individuals. The in-game items are purely to generate more money from that specific individual.

It’s hard to say what will happen when everything is said and done, but it seems that we will be able to have loot boxes in the UK for the time being. The best thing that comes out of it all is that the game developers are taking pause and re-assessing their business models. That might not stop most of the throwaway mobile games where it really is ‘pay to win’ at times. And, if you are of the appropriate age, you can do some proper gambling, check out no deposit mobile casino bonus. Kinder Surprise Eggs, as mentioned earlier, are banned in a few countries though. Not because it’s gambling (although there are similarities), it’s because the FDA, the US Food and Drugs agency, deems the small parts of the toy inside a choking hazard.

Illegally importing can lead to a $2,500 fine per egg.

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