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The gaming industry keeps growing year on year, and doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon. Esports tournaments are attracting more players as well as dedicated fans. This has led to larger prize pools for the participants of some tournaments, and has contributed to help make esports more mainstream.
But behind the large prize pools, there is an ongoing debate surrounding how many of the game developers monetize their games – sometimes using loot boxes.
Loot boxes are of course a common feature in many video games, and can be described as boxes that are received by playing the game, or by making in-game purchases with real money.
More games nowadays often show the potential contents of the box, but the rarer items have a much lower drop rate. This is one of the reasons why loot boxes are criticized, as they have a great resemblance to slot machines. You might win big, or you might just win a player banner or other cosmetic that is never going to be used or is worthless.
Making loot boxes as tempting as slot machines
Loot boxes have gone through several changes in how they are presented within games. As stated, it is possible to make comparisons to slot machines. Earlier, slot machines had a simple design. The players just started playing with the only purpose of pulling off a win.
Today, digital slot machines are designed in such a way that the player receives a lot of endorphins simply by playing. This is done through design choices such as bright colours and sound effects. An example of a company behind online slot machines in the UK is ARGO Gaming Group, which provides UKcasinoo – a site where you can find the best slots from casinos with a license from the UK.
However, there are lots of other gambling licenses across the world, and you don’t always have to live in a specific country to access their casinos. Canada, for example, is another big casino market. Players can turn to Casinoclaw, another site held by ARGO, to find the best casinos with a Canadian gambling license.
Drawing on this development of slot machines, it is possible to see similarities with loot boxes. One early iteration of the loot box comes from CS:GO. These loot boxes are known as ‘containers’, and opening them are not that exciting at first glance. The animation is like a wheel of fortune at a carnival (see above, pictured).
The sound effect is rather uninspiring, and the animations are not as well designed as they are in other games. Titles such as Rocket League and Apex Legends both have flashing colours symbolising the rarity of the loot box content, flashy explosions for the reveal and a well-thought-out sound design. So looking at these, it is possible to see that loot boxes in video games have been inspired by slot machines.
Are all loot boxes bad?
Loot boxes have a bad reputation as many argue that they are slot machines catering to youths and children. Therefore, Belgium legislated against loot boxes in 2018 following debates on the topic. And the action taken by Belgium can be seen as a reasonable one, as loot boxes make players spend money on receiving a potential reward.
The rewards almost newer have any real-life value, which means that looking at it cynically, every opened loot box could be considered an economic loss. This is a key difference from online casinos, as lucky players can make a profit with real money by playing on slot machines, while loot boxes only give you in-game items.
But even though most loot boxes are to be perceived as bad for the gaming industry, there are still those that utilise this game feature for something good. An example is the digital card game Legends of Runeterra developed by Riot Games, which has loot boxes that can’t be purchased for real-life money. In this case, the loot boxes do fill a purpose, they resemble the classic feeling of opening a pack of fresh Pokémon cards, without the downside of emptying you or your parents’ wallet.
All the cards in Legends of Runeterra are obtainable through simply playing the game. Comparing this to its main competitor, Hearthstone, developed by Blizzard Entertainment, where it costs somewhere around $250-300 to access all the new cards in an expansion (around 250 packs). So it is safe to say that Legends of Runeterra goes against the grain somewhat.
The game also has a growing esports scene, with the Legends of Runeterra World Championship having just concluded. The player in first place, Team Liquid’s Alanzq from Poland, received a prize of $40,000, and none of that money came from loot boxes!
It should also be noted that the game is free-to-play and available on PC as well as mobile. This means you don’t need to have a high-end computer or expensive PC gaming hardware or equipment, such as a graphics card or gaming chair, to enjoy the game. All you need is your mobile phone and internet connection.
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