Squeezing more and more out of consumers

Loot boxes in video game world are obviously gambling

I’ve been a fan of video games since the late 1970’s; unless you’re roughly my age, you probably won’t be familiar with things like the Atari 2600, Mattel Intellivision or the ubiquitous video game arcade.

Video games really picked up steam in the late 1980’s after the North American release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES as it’s known. This was a home system you could hook up to your TV that played high quality games. You could buy such games for about $60, and everything you needed was included. In fact, the NES came with extra peripherals such as a light gun and a game cartridge that included both the Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt games. A good value.

However, once the internet made itself known in the mid-to-late 1990s, things slowly started to change in the video game industry. Before, if you bought a game, you bought a game. It included everything you needed to play; some games even included bonus content or hidden activities, all included with the purchase price.

This coincided with the fact more and more small video game companies were being bought up by large corporations like Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Activision. Corporations conduct themselves with corporate mentality, meaning profits and shareholders are more important than quality and customers and this shouldn’t surprise anyone. A rattlesnake is a rattlesnake, and if you step on it, you’ll get bit.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, “downloadable content” for video games made itself known. This is “extra” content that you could purchase over the internet and add to a video game you’ve already purchased. It was and remains controversial in the industry because the prices charged for content (some range from $40 to $60 or more) equal the price of the original game and many customers, after purchasing the content, would later regret their purchase as it didn’t match expectations. So publishers like EA and Activision, charging for downloadable content, saw $120 paid for a game that retailed for $60.

One of the main problems now in video games is also internet-related. The issue of “loot boxes” has motivated big companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to state they are now going to self-regulate.

What are loot boxes?

These are items a player can encounter while playing an internet-related game that you can open if you pay real money in the real world. The boxes may or may not contain something a player can use while playing the video game. For example, someone playing a police-related game might find a can of pepper spray in a loot box once the fee has been paid.

The question arising about loot boxes though is “Who determines what’s in a loot box, and is it worth paying for at all?”

There have been some pretty high profile incidents down in the States (well, for video game news anyway) about children, youth and even adults paying exorbitant amounts of money trying to find special items locked away in loot boxes. In fact, some critics have compared loot boxes to VLTs, casino gambling, lottery tickets and scratch and win, many of which are age-restricted activities.

Large industry members have now voluntarily offered to add “odds of winning” notices on loot boxes so players “know what they’re getting” (and if you’ve ever bought scratch and win tickets, you likely know what they’re going to get).

Loot boxes are obviously gambling, and the fact that children and youth can access them regularly is reprehensible. The lackadaisical attitude of the video game corporations doesn’t help (Electronic Arts calls its loot boxes “surprise mechanics,” very likely the same people who invented the word “monetization.”)

This issue should be looked into by the government and the police, as sleazy quick buck artists trying to trick kids into buying useless internet junk for good money is and should be considered a crime.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.

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