I’m not afraid to admit it – I’m pretty proud of that title!
Now, not everyone will know what I am talking about, as this issue is not what we’d class as front-page news. However, in certain circles (namely the gaming and online world) it has caused a public relations storm that is quickly getting out of control.
First, let’s add some context for those who’ve not read anything on this yet. You see for the past couple of years the gaming (by that we mean the world of PS4’s and Xbox Ones) industry has slowly, and rather insidiously, been introducing loot boxes to nearly every new game that’s released. What are these loot boxes? Well they are, to all intents and purposes, slot machines for gaming. When you open one of these loot crates you receive a variety of random prizes (or loot). These pieces of loot range from common items to the very rare items – the latter being hugely sort after and will often have a positive impact on the players experience and (in some cases) performance, particularly in multiplayer environments.
At first, these rewards were largely cosmetic, and the loot boxes could only be purchased with currencies that were earnt in-game. However, slowly but surely, the gaming industry started adding a very important ingredient to the mix – real world currency.
Now did the corporations show restraint when building loot boxes into their games? No, of course they didn’t. In fact, they mirrored the behaviour of some UK bookmakers who describe addicted customers as ‘whales’ – wringing them out for every last drop of cash they have. EA (Electronic Arts), the company currently taking the flack, took greed to a whole new level by putting in pay-to-win elements into the loot box system for their newly released game, Star Wars Battlefront 2. In doing so, they locked major characters and upgrades behind their system. Thus, putting players in a situation, where if they wanted to compete on the multiplayer part of the game, they’d have to fork out cash to pay to roll the dice with these loot boxes.
At this point we’d like to stress that the game itself already cost £55, £70 if you bought the deluxe addition. The loot box costs are on top of these costs. So, this might be the only time bookmakers have looked less greedy than another company. Can you imagine Coral charging you £55 just to be a member and lose more money? That is essentially what is happening here. It has now got to the point were countries like Belgium, Australia, Sweden and parts of the US are calling what is going on in these games as out and out gambling.
Believe it or not, it gets worse. This is not an 18+ game. This game can be bought by kids. Yes, that’s right, a form of gambling is being promoted through a beloved franchise (Star Wars) to children. Just when you thought mega corporations couldn’t get any slimier. Needless to say, this is starting to receive attention from various authorities and companies like EA are starting to sweat as falling share prices and investigations loom on the horizon.
This blog has covered a lot of topics, and plenty of them have got me wound up. However, this one really touched a nerve, because this (at its most insidious) is laying the ground-work for the addiction that bookmakers will pray on once this audience reach 18. Of course, with no concrete research this is impossible to prove, although the likely outcome seems only too obvious.
So, am I suggesting that I rush into schools up and down the country with a banner saying “Avoid games and use Heads&Heads when you turn 18”? No, of course not but is it too much to hope that maybe matched betting will be seen as the counter to this corporate greed and gambling? It is going to be a while before matched betting can truly separate itself, image wise, from gambling - but hopefully, when that does happen, kids (and adults) can be taught the various ways you can make money online without risking their money or becoming addicted to gambling.