“Gimme the Loot!”…The Rise of the Loot Pack in the Gaming World
“Loot packs” are a contentious new development in the gaming world and are stirring things up in the industry no end. However, many are still unfamiliar with the phenomenon, particularly those who only occasionally dabble in games. So here’s a little introduction to bring you up to speed.
The old, innocent days of straight-forward gaming seem to be over. It’s no longer a case of buying a cartridge for your console or a CD-ROM for your PC and playing away to your heart’s content without having to think about money again. Now when you buy a game, after that initial outlay you might well find yourself spending more and more as you progress through the story.
What happens is that, in a role-playing game for example, your character will happen upon an opportunity to upgrade his or her weapons or outfit or even abilities. Inevitably this will be an appealing prospect, but the hidden catch is that you have to pay, with real money, for the upgrade. Failing that you can purchase the upgrade in the game, but not actually utilise it or activate it until you’ve unlocked it with a key, which you must pay for with real money.
Now, admittedly buying a loot pack isn’t always necessary to complete a game, but one definitely feels that one is missing out on something by not engaging with the feature. Check out this video by a gaming YouTuber to get a sense of the excitement that accompanies the release of these loot boxes for a game such as Overwatch.
Is it wrong then? Is this in-game monetisation exploitative? Well possibly, but if you think back to early arcade games that asked you to put in more money for another life, having already paid once to play, then you have a precedent that might make this all feel less hostile.
The main issue is that it’s not quite as clear-cut or transparent as other similar forms. Online slots for example are something that everyone’s raving about at the moment. These require little explanation but for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t come across them before, they’re an up-to-date, online version of the traditional slot machine. You can play away merrily and be clear on exactly what’s happening at all times because either you’re playing for free or for money and you can set a limit on your spending and all is well. Now that’s a completely different kettle of fish to these loot packs, which are arguably rather an insidious form, lurking within the depths of a game and almost there specifically to catch you out.
So if it sounds sneaky, then frankly, that’s because it is. It reminds one of advertising or marketing that targets children and pushes them to ask their parents to buy them a lovely, expensive toy that’s just been dangled in front of their noses. It’s this business of teasing someone with something and then forcing them to pay if they actually want it. In fact this aspect of gaming is now being taken seriously by governments. It’s a tricky legal matter and is sometimes regarded as a kind of soft gambling. At the moment loot packs and similar concepts are regulated in China and Japan and presumably it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world follows their example. There’s a good in-depth article here if you’re keen to find out more.