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Loot Boxes and Pay-to-Win Features in Digital Games Look a Lot Like Gambling

Loot Boxes and Pay-to-Win Features in Digital Games Look a Lot Like Gambling

Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2019Tagged: Gaming, Xbox Live

Loot boxes are containers that you purchase in a game. What you get is a box that will churn out a prize. As a player, you have no idea what prize you are getting. A pay-to-win feature is one where you need to make a purchase to gain a significant advantage. You will often see this in games where you need to buy items with higher quality. If you don’t make a purchase, your chance for success is close to impossible.

Loot Boxes and Pay-to-Win Features in Digital Games Look a Lot Like Gambling

At the end of the day, is this gambling or not?

Important Definitions

Gambling is an activity where one person uses something of value to wager on an unknown outcome. Essentially, it all boils down to the element of chance and that the participant is expecting to get something of value that is higher than his investment. The other factor to consider is he can lose and get something of lesser worth or nothing at all. Accordingly, there are five criteria that an activity must meet before it is classified as gambling:

  • There must be an exchange of foods that have value.

  • This exchange must be dependent on the outcome of a future activity.

  • The participants cannot control the outcome but they have a chance to influence the result.

  • If a participant chooses not to join, he will not lose money.

  • The winner gain because someone at the other end the spectrum lost.

If these five conditions are met, then the activity is deemed as a gambling exercise.

Assessment of Loot Boxes in Games

The argument is that loot boxes are considered gambling based on the nature of how they are executed. The reason being is that these micro-transactions are meeting the conditions that constitute gambling similar to transactions in Betfred Casino. Here is the explanation.

  • When you purchase a loot box, there is an exchange of goods that have value. These goods are your money and the game developer’s items.

  • What you get depends on the rewards that the computer system awards you. And this happens as a future activity.

  • The content of the loot is not within your control. You do not know what you will get. You can improve your chances of getting the highest quality of items if you buy at a higher tier.

  • If you walk away, you still lose in the game. You cannot proceed in the game if you do not make the purchase.

  • As you get the highest reward, somewhere from the other side of the world gets a bad reward that is valued lesser than what he spent.

Based on this assessment, loot boxes are the same as gambling.

Assessment of Pay-to-Win

This, we can say, is not gambling. The reason behind this is the absence of the element of chance. When you buy an in-game item, you know what you are purchasing. If you are buying gems, diamonds, energy, or a weapon, you know that it is the item that you will get. You have no dependency on chance.

The items you buy in in-app purchases are not different from physical goods that you buy. You shop for shoes because they will serve a purpose. In the same light, you buy an armour in a digital game because it serves your purpose.

As such, the pay-to-win scheme is not gambling because you are in control of the outcome.


Different governments are now taking the appropriate action to investigate pay-to-win and loot box components in digital gaming. Once these investigations come to a closure, we can expect that there will be some drastic changes in the existing laws that govern gaming standards.

One of these changes is how the games are made available to the public. It won’t probably be surprised if some games are banned or either regulated according to the age of the user. If a game has gambling components, it will not be made available to children below legal age.

The other possible drastic change is that both of these two components may be completely eliminated. If this happens, the only alternative is to remove the in-app purchases and make the game a paid one right from the get-go, with all players having equal chances to succeed.

But if this happens, it will be a serious blow to both game developers and the players because there is an upfront cost required.

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