ESA Presdient Standing Firm on Loot Boxes /= Gambling

At the recent Nordic Game Conference, ESA president Mike Gallagher addressed the issue of loot boxes. Specifically that government interference "challenges our industry’s freedom to innovate, and impairs our ability to continuously test new business models, which drive creativity and engagement with our audience."

Gallagher spoke with an audience of developers this weekend about the recent opposition to loot boxes from the gambling authorities of the Netherlands and Belgium. Both countries have investigated loot boxes, with Belgium finding several games in violation of their gambling laws. But Gallagher is insistent that the industry can regulate itself, while pushing loot boxes as not a form of gambling. The reasoning: because players win something with loot boxes every time. Unlike real world gambling where sometimes you win nothing at all. "Video games never take money from a player and leave them with nothing. They never do."

While on the surface that sounds okay, but the issue of gambling with loot boxes is not about leaving players with "nothing." A number of slot machines you'll find in casinos now run off a "loot-box" like mantra where you get something every time you play, even if it's the same coins or less back. It's about the addiction to the loot boxes. The enticing graphics when you open a pack/deck/box. The over-the-top music and sound effects that capture your attention. The thrill and excitement of waiting to see what's in the loot box. The need to spend more money to obtain the item you really, really want. Those are the "gambling" factors that commissions and countries are looking at.

Getting "something" doesn't negate the gambling feeling that loot boxes provide. The ESA president can talk around in circles as much as he'd like. And the developers/publishers that get it "right" won't always win against those that get it "wrong" - see EA; they're still very much in business and promoting loot boxes. I'm all for the industry regulating itself, but we need to acknowledge that we have a loot box problem and strive to resolve it.