Why are developers increasingly adding betting systems to their games, demanding even more money from customers? While playing an online shooting game, Kees is continuously shot. He doesn’t stand a chance, because his opponents are equipped with the best weapons and all kinds of upgrades. There is a way he could possibly win again. Hidden in a game menu is the option to invest real money in the game. In return, he gets treasure chests, which are filled with weapons, upgrades, and outfits for his game characters. These ‘loot boxes’ have made an advance in games in recent years. More and more developers are adding the payment option in an effort to make extra money on their titles.
The Dutch Gaming Authority recently started an investigation into the digital game packages. Critics fear that loot boxes are a form of gambling because the buyer does not know in advance what he or she is purchasing. The Gaming Authority says that especially with minors there is a chance that they will not be able to foresee the consequences. An addiction to buying loot boxes could lead to gamers incurring a gambling debt. If the authority chooses to classify the games as gambling games, this could lead to a sales ban. At the moment there is no law for online games of chance, which means that they cannot be offered in the Netherlands. There is a bill before the Senate.
According to professor Jeroen Lemmens of the University of Amsterdam, loot boxes are addictive in any case. “The desired reward does not always follow opening a loot box,” he says. “Research has shown that such reward patterns have a strong motivational effect on our behavior, making us repeat the act more often and sustain the behavior for longer. This can then lead to gambling addiction.” Lemmens emphasizes that not everyone will immediately become addicted to a loot box game. According to him, addiction sensitivity also depends on personal characteristics, social influences and the environment also play a role. Electronic Arts (EA), publisher of the new game Star Wars Battlefront II, does not think that loot boxes can be linked to addiction or gambling. “It is especially important for us to make an honest and fun experience,” a spokesperson told NU.nl. “The ability for players to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing loot boxes, but they can also be earned in-game.”
Need more money
Critics often attribute the rise of such systems to the growing costs of game development. Game studios are getting bigger and bigger and need higher budgets to compete. In 2013, the new Tomb Raider game failed to meet its financial target, despite selling 3.4 million copies for around $60 each. Developers are now trying to get money from other sources, by making players pay for extras. This is a strategy that has already proven itself in the mobile market. Game company Nintendo recently said that the mobile strategy game Fire Emblem Heroes had a higher profit margin than Super Mario Run. For Mario is once requested a payment, while Fire Emblem is free with purchases in-game. In the quarter, $93 million of EA’s digital sales came from game sales, while a staggering $255 million was earned from “extra content” sales. EA is talking about income from, for example, extra levels, subscriptions such as เปิดยูส100, and advertisements within games. Activision Blizzard, in turn, also saw revenue from additional purchases within games increase. In the second financial quarter of 2017, the company posted $1.15 billion in revenue through subscriptions and additional revenues such as these microtransactions. The old-fashioned game sales yielded a turnover of $481 million.
In the Netherlands, possible measures will only be taken against games if the Gaming Authority concludes that the games in question can be regarded as gambling. The authority can only say that once the investigation has been completed. “In this specific case, it would be a big step forward if the loot boxes were officially labeled gambling,” says Plass. “That would force EA to think about what makes a game exciting to buy, rather than turning it into a casino.” Although the Belgian Gaming Commission is also conducting an investigation, the Minister of Justice is already arguing for a ban on games with loot boxes. He wants to talk to the European Union about this. In the meantime, EA has temporarily disabled its microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II. The company says it plans to reactivate optional payments at a later date, once they have an idea of how the system can be tweaked. The loot box system in EA’s racing game Need for Speed Payback has also been tweaked this week. At the same time, PEGI, the organization that gives age ratings to games, is considering how to better inform consumers about the presence of additional purchases in games. PEGI already does this in Google Play, the Nintendo eShop, and the Microsoft Store. Sony also has plans to implement this system. Whether PC games store Steam ever wants to do this is not yet known.