By NATHANIEL HOLBROOK
Video game culture is constantly expanding. One recent area of growth is new innovations on the monetary side of gaming. To fund the expanding gaming market and cost to produce games, video game companies have adopted the use of microtransactions and loot boxes. Loot boxes are randomized virtual item generators that players can get in games and microtransactions are usually associated with Downloadable Content (DLC) which can extend the life of video games by providing additional content.
However, the use of microtransactions and loot boxes can be unethical and has been challenged by many in the gaming community due to the predatory business practices associated with loot boxes. Microtransactions can initiate gambling, addiction and unfair advantage if not surveilled closely.
“Microtransactions can be done in an ethical and unethical way,” said William Dickinson, professor of physics at UMW. “When targeting addictive behavior in game design involving microtransactions, such as loot boxes, that’s unethical. It’s unethical when big company’s target a group that are susceptible to these predatory business tactics. It’s very easy for mobile games where people can get a small endorphin rush when buying something small, a reward chemical mechanism in the brain, and can lead to addictive behavior.”
Loot boxes and microtransactions can cause endorphin rushes, making the purchaser feel rewarded and want to repeat the behavior. This can lead to an addiction. Big companies may target these endorphin rushes to try and get people hooked, which can be unethical when it targets young children. Young children don’t fully understand the concept of money, which could lead to them spending a lot of their parents money and possibly lead to an addiction at a young age to buying virtual items.
“When it’s to expand a game and give players more of what they enjoy through microtransactions, that’s ethical,” added Dickinson. Not all microtransactions are bad as it can extend the life of a game by giving more content players enjoy as well as supporting the business.
Microtransactions can also enable unfair advantages, referred to as “pay to win.” Particularly in online multiplayer games, some players have an advantage because they paid more to get overpowered loot, that can also be gained through loot boxes. This can take away the fun from the game.
“Loot boxes and microtransactions were made as a cash grab for companies, allowing players to pay to win instead of dedicating time and effort into a game,” said junior Matt Augustine. “Even if the microtransactions were just cosmetic, it’s still a harmful thing, especially to young children. Loot boxes are a form of gambling and it’s targeted at children who are unable to be aware of the dangers they can have.”
Some people disagree, however, about the classification of loot boxes as gambling despite the random nature of the prize.
Sophomore Logan Palmer said, “Loot boxes aren’t gambling. In gambling, you mostly lose money, in loot boxes you pay for something and you generally can see all the possibilities of stuff you can get so you accept that you can get a random prize. And then microtransactions are a different story. Microtransactions in games are for both greed and the average worker who doesn’t want to grind.”
Some players are selective when it comes to microtransactions. Sophomore Mike Redding said, “I enjoy DLC, but I pick and choose what I buy and not every DLC or microtransaction.”
In response to the negative connotations loot boxes have received these past few years, many video game creators have moved on to battle passes for certain games such as “Fortnite” and “Call of Duty Modern Warfare.” Battle passes allow players to enter into a limited time event to get all the cosmetics in that season and or allow access to all DLC maps when they are released. In order to get the cosmetics, though, players have to either spend a large amount of time playing the game to get the loot, or they can pay to get all the cosmetics quicker.
Microtransactions and loot boxes have negative connotations within the gaming community due to the unethical predatory business tactics some game companies use to target children with loot box gambling. Microtransactions can be good when expanding a game, but not when the core mechanic of the game is focused solely on microtransactions. Microtransactions and loot boxes are not inherently bad, but how businesses use them today is often unethical.