Ah, the beautiful loot box. Never has such a simple mechanic been so fun for so many to enjoy. It’s a mechanic that’s been found in a lot more games these days across all genres, from the tried and true first-person shooter to the classic dungeon scroller. But are loot boxes a form of gambling?
Well, that’s quite a complicated question to answer. While they are technically a form of gambling in that you never know what’s on the other side until it’s open, they’re not a classic form of gambling in the sense that you place a bet and hope for the best outcome. Let’s take a look at some of the more established examples of loot boxes in video games, and see if we can draw similarities and differences between these and classic gambling.
What is a Loot Box?
So, basically, a loot box is a form of treasure that can be collected within a game. Sometimes they are a reward for defeating another player or an in-game NPC (non-playable character). Other times, they’re a definitive function of the game itself.
If you’ve ever played Call of Duty Zombies, you’ll be familiar with the now-famous weapons cache loot box system that the game employs. In this system, you’ll essentially use credits earned by fighting off hordes of zombies at a special box that can be found at certain places around the map. Once you spend a few credits, the box will start showing you a selection of fast-spinning weapons that will slowly start spinning down and eventually end on the one you like.
Now, what makes this mechanic a lot like slot machines at online casinos like these is that you could wind up winning a very powerful weapon that costs a lot more than your initial investment in the weapons cache like a machine gun or a nuclear bomb. Or, you might have the unfortunate luck of having overspent on an even weaker weapon, like a pistol. In slots, there’s the similar chance of hitting a decent win or losing your stake entirely.
There are a lot of other games that utilize this mechanic, like the Fallout series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Borderlands, and Skyrim. They add a lot of fun to the game because the player essentially doesn’t get bored learning to expect the same kind of loot from the same kind of place, NPC, or hidden location.
Game creators have used a randomized loot system from all the way back in the 90s when games like SystemShock, Deus Ex-Machina, and Baldur’s Gate first started popularizing the mechanic. These early loot systems added an element of realism to games that hadn’t existed before then – as games tended to be very linear and repetitive due to the limited technical capabilities of both software and hardware at the time. It was actually the code itself that managed to make this system viable, and we’ll get into that in just a moment.
How Does a Loot Box Work?
So, a loot box works on a system known as an RNG – or Random Number Generator. Basically, the code running the game will create a randomized number and each item available to the player from the loot box will have a certain number specified to it. The numbers are always randomly generated, meaning that whatever comes out of the loot box, will be randomized accordingly. Some games will specify that for numbers over a certain amount, any one of these items could be listed, or vice versa, under that amount, these items could be listed.
It’s a remarkably simple and elegant form of programming that really helped to revolutionize the way people enjoyed video games back in the day. But is it a form of gambling?
Is the Loot Box System a Form of Gambling?
Now, it can definitely be argued that the loot box is a form of gambling, just not in the traditional sense. Slot games and loot boxes utilize the same sort of code in their gameplay mechanics i.e. the random number generator. Yet, they differ in the sense that slot machines utilize real money to activate each spin, while loot boxes can often be found for free in a game, or at most, tend to cost a little in-game XP.
The same excitement is definitely felt when waiting for a loot box to open as when waiting for a slot machine to stop spinning and if you’ve ever experienced either, you’ll definitely concur.
So loot boxes, slot machines – same thing really. Maybe in the future, we’ll see more of a crossover between these two mechanics. We can definitely see a slot machine game adding a loot box mechanic to be quite effective. Imagine getting a free loot box after every 10 spins and wondering what the prize would be inside. Maybe a few free spins? A cash prize? A bonus multiplier of some sort? Either way, it’s definitely something that online casinos should start cashing in on soon, as a lot of people in the gaming world have always loved loot boxes, so there’s no reason why gamblers wouldn’t too.