How Money Continues to Kill Online Video Gaming In 2020


Video gaming is a huge industry that often gets underestimated by a lot of people. With annual global revenues touching $43 billion in 2019, it is actually bigger than both Hollywood and online streaming sites. 

And it is also growing at a frenetic pace, currently estimated at around 17% annually. All that growth is an indicator that gamers are buying and enjoying more quality games, right? Well, not necessarily, because, game companies have found new ways to make money.

One particular form which most gamers and reviewers have come to hate in unison is the system of loot boxes. In the last couple of years, these have become so common in the games industry that gamers, parents, and even politicians started getting concerned.

Why all this hue and cry over something in games? What are these loot boxes, where did they come from and how are they destroying games as we know them? To answer these questions, we have to start with an origin story – and that involves mobile games.


From Gacha-games and Farmville to FIFA, Battlefield and Star Wars

The origin of loot boxes in video gaming can be traced back to particular genres of Asian mobile games, like JRPGS, MMORPGs, and Gacha games. Fire Emblem and ZT Online are some of the big Asian games that pioneered the loot box system.

Yip, I’d never heard of Gacha games either

Soon, companies like Zynga started using the system in its popular social games like Farmville, introducing the concept to a Western audience.  When Team Fortress became the first mainstream video game to use loot boxes, little did gamers suspect what was to follow.

Pretty soon, all the big developers like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft started adding the loot box system to their popular franchises. Now we have loot boxes everywhere, from sports franchises like FIFA, NBA, Madden, racing games like Forza 7, and FPS titles like Battlefield, Star Wars - Battlefront series and more.


They encourage you to spend even more money

This is one of the biggest criticisms leveled against loot boxes by all gamers. In the past, when you paid $60 for a AAA game, you basically got what you paid for. But now, games are designed in such a way that encourages players to pay extra cash through micro-transactions.

Bonus items that you would have gained for free in an old game are now locked behind pay-walls, with in-game stores and shops being a new trend. Games like LOTR Shadow of War, Anthem, and AC - Odyssey all have in-game shops selling you tons of items for real money.


Loot boxes reduce some games to “pay to win”

Single-player games don’t have much use of loot boxes. For instance, if you are playing against the computer in a Wolfenstein game, the virtual Nazis you are killing don’t care what kind of cosmetic gear you are wearing.

This makes loot boxes more valuable in online multiplayer, where you can use them to flaunt your style and uniqueness. If it stopped at that shallow cosmetic layer, as they employ it in games like CS: GO and Overwatch, for example, we don’t think many gamers would have a problem.

But many loot boxes also include legendary gear that enhances your performance and attributes in a game, meaning you can literally buy your way to online wins. Fifa FUT game mode is an example - if you got cash to burn, you can pay for player packs and unleash an all-start team right from the get-go.

The worst offenders of this from recent memory were Fallout 76 and Call of Duty Black Ops 4. The former had repair kits that gave you a serious edge in the game. And guess what, you had to pay cash to get them. The latter gave out OP weapons in its loot boxes, which is no better.

They are too close to gambling for comfort

This is perhaps one of the main reasons for the controversy around the whole system. According to many experts, loot boxes have introduced gambling to gaming. In its worst forms, loot box implementation does have many features that support this view.

The biggest problem with loot boxes is that they do not show you what you will get when you open them. You are basically paying money to get content whose value you do not know for sure. It is randomized - chosen from a mix of different tiered items, common and exceptionally rare or legendary stuff.

Do you know what else has a system that spews out randomized results when you throw money at it? Casino gaming machines, video poker machines, and online slots - they all have the same basic system. And they are among the most lucrative money-spinners for casinos.

To understand why we need to look at why people love gambling. There is a thrill in playing around with the unknown. When you land a win at an online slot or get a legendary item from a loot box, it creates the same feeling of pleasure or euphoria. 

Players who get hooked end up spending more cash to open loot boxes, chasing the same high again and again. But since those boxes are programmed to drop epic or legendary loot maybe 1-3% of the time, you can imagine the damage it would cause to your wallet.

Many governments like Japan and Belgium have banned some types of loot boxes due to the excessive element of gambling in them. Some game developers have also taken a progressive stance, by showing you the contents of a loot box beforehand. Others have vowed not to use loot boxes to sell pay to win items.

All these reactions show that loot boxes as they exist in the traditional form do have a negative impact on players. They may earn hundreds of millions of dollars for the companies, but at what cost is the question. Video games are enjoyed by kids and adults alike. The stigma of gambling is something a game developer cannot afford to be associated with.

Then there is also the issue of widespread customer discontent. Gamers tend to be hard to please, but even by those standards, anger against game developers is on the rise. Many see loot boxes as a blatant expression of the greed of companies like EA and Activision, some of the most hated brands in any business. Left unchecked, loot boxes can kill gaming as we know it.

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Last Updated: Mar 23, 2020