I really hate loot boxes, whether they're ones you purchase with real money or not.
They've changed the way games are designed for the worse, but still, I struggle to see how anyone could seriously class them as gambling.
Gambling is walking to the nearest betting office to put a fiver down on a horse winning a race. It's putting the lottery on weekly without fail. It's putting the loose change in my pocket into a slot machine. It's even buying a raffle ticket. It's putting myself in a situation where I've put my money or some other form of property on the line knowing that there's a chance I might lose it and be left with nothing. And more often than not, you do. That's not what happens with loot boxes.
By the very definition of the word "gambling", I can maybe understand a little as to why some would consider loot boxes to be like gambling - you're paying money, real or otherwise, to gain some form of benefit or item that is selected by chance - but there's one major factor that many seem to discount: you can't lose.
You might say that loot boxes are "a gamble" because you know you might not get what you want, but you always get something. You pay a (usually) small fee for a chance of obtaining a piece of loot that would take you hours to grind for, or a skin for your favourite character. In many cases, the item can be attained by simply playing the game, making it obtainable via a loot box a matter of convenience. But the crux of it all is, you always get something when buying a loot box. It's not gambling, it's a lucky dip.
To classify loot boxes as gambling would be to classify collectable card games as gambling because you can get duplicates. Likewise sticker albums and LEGO Minifigures. Even the purchase of Kinder Eggs and McDonalds Happy Meals would be gambling because you just never know which toy you are going to get. I think we can all agree that none of those things are gambling, can't we?
And then there's the argument that loot boxes promote gambling behaviour and try to catch gamers in a vicious loop. But again, as loot boxes aren't gambling, it's a moot point. You're only likely to buy loot boxes until you've got the reward you desire. Have we heard any stories of gamers losing their homes and living with crippling debt because of a loot box addiction? No. You quite often hear about it happening to people with an actual gambling addiction though.
The loot box mechanic has been in games for years, only not presented in quite the garish way it is now. Diablo is a game essentially built around loot boxes, and I love it. I've spent hundreds of hours collecting, buying and crafting randomised loot - I'm addicted to it - but do I ever suddenly just jump up and think to myself "I'm going to put £50 down on Wayne Rooney dropping his shorts in the middle of a game"? No. Saying that loot boxes are made to indoctrinate players into the world of gambling is clutching at straws to add fire to the loot box argument, and it does more harm than good.
I've written it (probably) more than once before and I'll write it again: loot boxes are likely here to stay, and all we can hope for is that they're implemented better. Developers and publishers want more money because games are damn expensive to make and maintain, yet as consumers, we don't really want to spend any more money upfront for them. When loot boxes contain trivial cosmetic items that have no bearing on how a game plays whatsoever, they do little damage. In the worst case scenario however, they allow players to gain an advantage over those that don't pony up the cash (*cough* Star Wars Battlefront II *cough*).
Trust me, I'm not trying to defend loot boxes here because I really do think they're a blight on gaming, but it's all about choosing your fights. Sticking to the notion that loot boxes are gambling and pushing for action to be taken on that basis is likely to be fruitless, and if anything does actually come of it the repercussions are likely to be worse for the gaming industry.
The best course of action is to simply not buy the games that have poorly implemented loot boxes. Most don't - I've played many games that have them and I've never felt that I'm at a disadvantage or that I can't have fun. Hit back at companies that do use them in a concise, well structured and polite manner. And don't just say it, do it. Don't crumble and buy a game like Star Wars Battlefront II a week after supposedly boycotting it if you disagree with Star Cards providing an unfair advantage.
Only by sticking to your guns and engaging in two way conversation can change truly be achieved. In the case of EA, it seems they're all ears, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll change. Only time will tell. But like season passes and day one preorder bonuses, things get worse before they get better, and I think we just hit rock bottom.