The Texas boy had a happy childhood until he made a fatal mistake at the age of 13. For $ 30 he bought upgrades to a mobile game to keep up with friends as he built his virtual city. It was the beginning of a vicious circle because that was not the only upgrade. He bought one upgrade after another. Later, the player has to draw a bitter balance: “I’m struggling with gambling addiction,” he confessed under the pseudonym Kensgold on the Reddit platform.
He spent a good 13,500 dollars, the equivalent of 11,900 Euros, in just three years to get the best video games equipment. He bought so-called loot boxes, “loot boxes”, the contents of which he did not know for all the money whether it contained the desired paintwork, the best rifle, or just worthless pixel garbage: coincidence, luck – or just bad luck.
Kensgold’s story is the extreme form of a problem that keeps growing. But he is not alone. Maybe not on his level, but millions of kensgold out there have spent a considerable amount on video games and all of it bit by bit.
What are Loot Boxes?
While they come in many shapes and sizes and have too many names, loot boxes are essentially virtual packages containing random or fixed items. Players buy these packages for real money, and when opened, they contain in-game items, which can range from rare items to total junk.
For example, in games like NHL 21, using nhl coins, you can buy packages containing rare or legendary players. If you are lucky your desired player will be in it, if not you keep spending money on the package until you get what you want.
Psychological tricks motivate young people to gamble
Because of the industry’s tricks, many young people never end and gamble away time and money. Experts warn that young players, in particular, can quickly lose track of how much they are spending due to intermediary online currencies and often low purchase prices per transaction.
So far, lawmakers have not been particularly interested in the subject. Loot boxes are a risk that the authorities have not adequately covered. According to a study in Germany 8.5 million children and adolescents up to the age of 19 are affected by microtransactions in video games. Loot boxes enable interaction and develop incentive effects, especially for children and young people to make purchases within a game. These purchases could get out of hand quickly. Many of the purchases are made in secret, and often the parents do not find out about them either. Social pedagogues report cases in which, for example, parents gave their son money for a car – and then found that he had put most of it, a five-figure sum, into a video game within a few weeks. This is very reminiscent of the history of Kensgold.
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In Belgium and The Netherlands, loot boxes are considered illegal gambling
From a psychological point of view, many experts and studies have concluded that loot boxes with their suction effect at least have a strong similarity to gambling. There is no central gaming supervisory authority in most countries that could make such an assessment from a legal point of view. Markus Ruttig is a lawyer and an expert in gambling law. He thinks it is likely that loot boxes are a game of chance. You pay a real stake and risk a total loss of this stake: “It can be completely for the cat because you can’t use what you get,” says Ruttig.
But the matter is legally difficult. Unlike other games of chance, many of the games use virtual currencies for which you have to spend Euros and cents – but which cannot be legally converted back into Euros and cents. “It is luck what awaits you in the box,” says lawyer Wulf Hambach, who specializes in gambling law. “But in most countries gambling in the legal sense is only if you can get something that can be converted into cash immediately.”
Belgium and the Netherlands have classified loot boxes as illegal gambling, similarly in Germany, at least for minors, it could soon be over. Video game makers would also have to take on more responsibility, for example, indicate that loot boxes are included in a game and disclose winning chances. Loot boxes should also influence the age rating of games.
A general ban on loot boxes is neither possible nor should be applied. But there should be a framework in place to make sure that minors and people with gambling addiction are roped into the world of transaction. Especially for mobile devices, the use of which parents can hardly control and pretty much anyone with video game development skills can eventually make mobile games with loot box features.
Classification as a game of chance would have serious consequences because it would make the loot boxes illegal – after all, online casinos everywhere need a license. Experience has shown that such general bans are simply disregarded. The lawyer Ruttig welcomes a youth protection regulation all the more, which he considers being far more effective: “Regardless of whether loot boxes are a game of chance or not: It is so close that you don’t want that with minors.”