One of the big targets for change in gaming throughout 2020 had been aimed at the loot box problem that has been spreading across many different services. First addressed way back in 2016 with big changes to Counter-Strike, one of the games where loot boxes were most prominent, it seems little has been done to improve the issues. Small changes have been made such as services being required to show odds of winning a certain item, but it does little to slow the problem that is being found with a growing younger audience taking part in purchasing loot boxes, and the gateway many feel it shares to gambling as a whole.
This has become particularly important over this past few years, as online services have started to find surges of new players as many become more accessible and more recognized. Online casinos as a whole have been able to capitalise on changing attitudes toward online gambling largely in part due to how loot boxes have been perceived, some categories like those found at TBC have been able to avoid ties, but big names in online slots have become another target for regulation makers as the links between loot boxes and slots have become more apparent over time. With that in mind, what are some of the more likely changes that could come to loot boxes over the next year, with both dramatic and less dramatic options in mind.
Complete ban – Whilst this option isn’t likely across a wider market, it’s certainly looking possible for certain smaller markets. It was recently ruled in Dutch courts that EA would have to pay a fine for its popular football title of FIFA whilst the player pack loot boxes remained in game, seemingly moving toward a stance of complete removal of loot boxes across games. Success in one market here could spell others to follow but may also depend on the stake that may be had within the games themselves.
Restrictive measures – With the links to online gambling, another possibility is that further restrictive measures may be put in place to prevent younger players from gaining access to these specific mechanics. Whether this comes through age verification or other similar means, there have been some nods that this could become a possibility. It may be difficult to enforce, however, and this will certainly lead many to be a little more apprehensive to implement the change.
Shutting down associated markets – Much of the difficult comes in discovering whether or not the loot boxes can lead to a trading market outside of the game. This was the defence of EA, who had tried to plea in its battle against Dutch courts, and also a large reason for the change to Counter-Strikes trading market back in 2016 but again comes with its own difficulties as preventing trading of items is easy but preventing the sale of entire accounts for example is much harder. If the approach is to make it harder, whether or not it is impossible is something entirely different, as it may be just enough to discourage those most likely to trade.
It will likely remain a hot topic for the foreseeable future, particularly as more links are being drawn between loot boxes and growing gambling problems amongst young players. Unless a robust and comprehensive system can be devised to slow the growth and spread, efforts made may do little to either dissuade developers from including these extremely profitable systems, or to dissuade the growing audience to these games from taking part in buying and trading what is often just unique cosmetic items tied to whatever game they’re present in.