“They’re not lootboxes, they’re surprise mechanics,” – Kerry Hopkins, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs.

Jim Sterling recently released a video on how the predatory nature of video game monetization has resulted in dangerously unhealthy habits. Out of many issues, the video highlights how lootboxes are turning the games we love into traps of gambling addiction.

It’s Not Easy

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One of the major problems surrounding gambling addiction is that it cannot be attributed to any specific ingested substance. A lot of people dismiss unhealthy behaviours such as gambling and shopping addiction because it’s easier to blame individuals for their lack of discipline.

It’s never that simple. Like how alcohol and drug addiction often require medical intervention, it’s the same for these cases.

It’s hard to imagine anyone would ever want someone to be afflicted with a form of addiction. It’s something that destroys lives and ruins relationships.

However, there are companies that benefit from addictive behaviour and thus they deliberately include addictive elements into their products and/or services. This is becoming the modus operandi of many game companies throughout the world.

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Torulf Jernström, CEO of mobile game company Tribeflame, gave a talk titled “Let’s Go Whaling” at Pocket Gamer Connects 2016. The 20-minute session detailed the various methods used to pressure players into purchasing in-game items and time-savers. The best part is that Torulf even mentions that he’d prefer to overlook the morality of his actions and advice.

The aforementioned talk uses the term “whales” to describe players who spend incredulous amounts of real money for in-game benefits. The common perception is that these whales are simply rich kids with access to their parents’ credit cards but of course, this isn’t entirely true.

Gambling addicts trying to find escapism through video games are just one of the many groups preyed on by these companies.

Shady Tactics

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Not too long ago, there was also the issue of kids being bullied and ostracised for not spending money on games. Those who didn’t purchase any paid skins in Fortnite were called “defaults” by their peers at school. This utilisation of herd mentality to pressure players into spending money is also a part of Torulf‘s methodology.

Unfortunately, the future doesn’t paint a pretty picture for those of us hoping that the presence of lootboxes and pay-to-win boosters will be reduced. Mobile gaming is expected to remain as the largest global games market at least for the next 3 years, according to a report by Newzoo.

Since most mobile games depend on monetization through pay-to-win and gacha mechanics, companies making console and PC games will want to adopt the same business philosophy.

On The Flip Side

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The problem here is that mobile games are often free-to-play. You don’t have to purchase the game to play it. The same can’t be said about most AAA console and PC games. Most of these titles cost around RM179 brand new. By being designed to accommodate lootboxes and other pay-to-win features, players are pressured to spend more money on these games in order to work around the time-wasters and other forms of artificial lengthening.

One bright spot of hope that surfaces is that several governments around the world are taking note of these developments. Regulation and legislation of lootboxes and other forms of monetization are being reviewed in countries such as China, Japan, the UK, the U.S., and many others. We do hope that this issue gets the regulation it deserves or at least some semblance of control.

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