Microtransactions and loot boxes seem to be a sensitive matter these days. One argument that we've seen spring up numerous times, especially over the last few weeks, is that loot boxes are essentially a form of gambling - and more should be done to regulate them in video games.
The ESRB replied to Kotaku with the following statement: "ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling. While there's an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don't want)", an ESRB representative told Kotaku.
Because the player always received something, it was likened to buying collectible cards, where some packs will contain more valuable cards than others. And it's true that players can participate in these loot boxes similar to Hearthstone's card packs without spending a penny of real-world cash. The ESRB made a statement yesterday about this, and today we have a similar statement from PEGI, the European ratings board. These groups have reportedly got in touch with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (#ESRB) to possibly indicate the system as #gambling in their ratings.
Loot boxes have been a part of games for a long time, and they usually go like this: Players randomly receive a loot box or earn a loot box through playing a multiplayer game, then either open it for free or pay a small amount of money for a key to unlock it. If you don't like 'em, don't buy 'em-and if you keep on buying them, don't be surprised and indignant when publishers keep working them into their games.
China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have all taken action to regulate skin gambling and loot box trading.
A system of trading has therefore developed, with players using third party gambling sites to pit their own skins against those of other players, or of the site itself. While the items being wagered and bartered have no real monetary value, gamers put a price of thousands of dollars on the most desirable items.
Games which include a loot box element need a gambling license, and the industry is closely regulated. Loot boxes are an entirely different beast. Maybe if society has accepted digital goods as a viable means of trade in the future, the concept of loot boxes would definitely be revisited and reclassified as gambling from that point on.