Lootbox mechanics in modern games have been a contentious topic for the gaming industry in recent years, as major publishers intent on revenue consistently clash with regulatory bodies of governments that are now concerned over the addictive qualities of these elements. From Belgium and the Netherlands, to Hawaii and the Federal Trade Commission, there is a growing awareness of the dangers of seemingly innocuous lootboxes.
Though the ESRB provides an “in-game purchase” label on certain titles, many feel that that does not adequately address the issue, and the creators of OpenCritic share the same sentiment. In a new post published on the aggregator website, the OpenCritic team details a newly implemented feature that they have promised since 2017, a prominent flagging system for games with malicious lootbox mechanics.
OpenCritic believes the increasingly common addition of lootboxes to boost company revenue represents a net-negative for the industry, as they “prey on human’s generally poor ability to accurately understand and internalize probabilities, especially at the extremes. Rather than offer in-game items directly, loot boxes are used to mask the underlying cost of extremely attractive items.” The team also promises that not all randomization features are given warnings, citing Red Dead Redemption and Watch Dogs as having harmless gambling min-games and randomness being the core mechanic behind roguelike titles.
While government agencies have turned against major publishers regarding the gambling properties of lootboxes, the ESRB still does not have a firm stance on them, which evidently is egregious enough to warrant an independent monitoring system by a third-party site. OpenCritic has been transparent about the whole process, even going so far as to break down the criteria for the flagging system into three main factors: “Unknown, Random Rewards”, where users do not know the items they are receiving before opening the box; “Monetized”, the ability for users to use real currency to roll for items; and “Encouraged Use”, the game encouraging the acquisition and use of said lootbox during normal gameplay (as an advantage) or any “game systems”. By name alone, these three core elements of lootbox culture implies an underlying trend that can only be described as gambling, an act that necessitates more stringent regulation.
If anything, OpenCritic’s new system is a fantastic first step towards educating gamers of the pitfalls that lootboxes can potentially induce. The warning sign is also visually prominent, a brightly colored orange banner that reads:
Please note: This game has monetized random reward mechanics, commonly referred to as “loot boxes.” These mechanics are similar to gambling and are being investigated by Belgium’s Gaming Commission, the Netherlands Gaming Authority, and other government bodies.
The progress of certain regulatory bodies in reining in the promotion of lootbox gambling by game publishers has certainly picked up in recent years, but many wonder if it’s sufficient, especially in huge markets like the United States and given the young demographic that video games target . With any luck, the utility of OpenCritic’s gesture of goodwill will pick up enough steam to warrant a more careful examination of this predatory system by more organizations with authority.