Are loot boxes in World of Warcraft gambling and should they be banned?

Loot boxes are something that has become synonymous with modern gaming. Almost every new release in the modern era has a form of loot box applied to it. One game that many felt didn’t need loot boxes is World of Warcraft. With it being a combination of free to play and subscription based, it was quite a shock when loot boxes were added to the gaming mechanic of WoW. However, many in Blizzard felt that not adding loot boxes was a revenue stream that the company couldn’t afford to ignore. With the addition of the loot boxes it brings up the age old question, are loot boxes gambling and should they be banned?

Are loot boxes gambling?

This is a question that has a lot of nuance behind the answer. While it’s impossible to deny that loot boxes are indeed a form of gambling, it would be wrong to say they are the same as gambling at an online casino. In fact, many would argue that loot boxes are worse than an online casino for a number of reasons.

Firstly, loot boxes are available to children. This means that gambling, in some form, can be introduced to children at an early age which can lead to significant gambling problems in later life. This is something that traditional gambling has been able to avoid due to the regulation that is applied to the industry.

Secondly, there is no financial prize on offer with a loot box. This is something that has allowed loot boxes to remain unregulated within the gaming community. It also means that players put in money in order to get something that will help them in game, but doesn’t have any kind of monetary value. As such, all money that players put into the games they play has no chance of coming back, so the money is lost forever once it is spent.

This has lead to many parents groups and other charity organisations to call for loot boxes in games to be banned. Is this the right approach though?

Should loot boxes be banned?

Put simply, banning loot boxes is most likely not the solution to the issues that they create. Banning loot boxes would motivate games developers to find another way around this loss of revenue. This could then lead to a different problem which could potentially be worse.

There are some restrictions that should be placed on loot boxes however. Because the act of opening a loot box provides the brain with the same rush that gambling does, it would make sense to introduce some form of regulations for loot boxes. How should the gaming industry go about this process though?

Online casinos and other gambling operators

Almost every country in the world has some form of gambling restrictions in place. This allows online gambling and land based gambling to be carried out in a safe manner. Because the regulators for gambling provide both rules that operators have to follow and help for people who are struggling with gambling addiction, it means that traditional gambling is much safer than using loot boxes.

This kind of reform is something that is strongly needed within loot boxes. With regulation in place it would stop children from being able to access loot boxes without their parents permission. It would also mean that video game developers would have to let it be known how the loot boxes work. Currently there is no hard and fast information that allows players to know the mathematics behind loot boxes.

Taking a leaf out of the gambling industries book would help loot boxes to be less toxic to players and provide a little more clarity to the industry.
The owner of casino portal says that countries already start banning lootboxes, for example the gambling commission in the Netherlands. There it is not allowed to sell any kind of loot boxes.

Possible reforms

One possible way for game companies to reform is to remove the random element to loot boxes. This would turn the in game items into straight purchases. It would mean that the gambling element of the loot boxes would be removed. However, it would cost companies such as Blizzard revenue. This is because obviously players wouldn’t be purchasing as many loot boxes in order to get the items that they want.

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Last Updated: Feb 15, 2021