You’ve all heard about the recent internet outrage at EA’s money-making schemes for Star Wars: Battlefront II. And more recently, you might have heard the Belgian government was investigating if games that allowed you to pay for random items with real world currency don’t constitute as “gambling”. (source)
Now, loot boxes are nothing new. They’ve become more and more popular as mechanics used by Game Developers (and even more so: Publishers) to earn extra income after the game has been sold. When the items you get are purely cosmetic, there is not much harm to be found in it. But when the people spending money on games have real in-game advantages over those who don’t, then it becomes interesting…
This does raise the question if it’s only the games with lootboxes that should fall under scruteny. After all, there are entire games that are built around people spending money to have a better chance at winning than their opponents. The first type of game that comes to mind are Trading Card Games (TCG). People who spent a lot of money to buy booster packs (with random cards in them) have a better chance at creating a deck with more powerful cards.
In MTG Online (and offline paper) Boosters, you get 11 Commons, 3 Uncommons and 1 Rare/Mythic. It goes without saying that the latter are usually the most powerful cards a player can have and the more you can put in your deck, the better your deck ends up being. Seeing as the content of each booster is random and the value of the cards inside can differ a great deal (a Rare can be worth $0.50 or you could open a $70 Mythic), doesn’t this technically fall under gambling as well?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these games should change how they make money or function. In fact, the randomness of the contents of a boosters is what makes it so exciting (but at the same time addictive) to open them.
Hearthstone and Magic Duels (and the soon to be released Magic Arena) do make a great case for possibly being completely free to play as you can earn credits by completing daily quests. But as long as there is an option to spend physical money and an incentive to perform better shouldn’t there be some governing agency regulating everything to keep it in check? Especially for the youngest players : Hearthstone is rated 7+ while Magic the Gathering is rated 13+ (though mostly for its adult and graphic use of art)
It’s an interesting debate, but I don’t yet know where I stand on it as a longtime player of Trading Card Games.
What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!