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What are the loot boxes of modern games and why do they accuse them of promoting gambling addiction in kids?

Would you pay 680 dollars for playing a game? And 800? To the majority it can seem an absurd question to us, but there are people who are letting themselves drag by these prices. Like Alie Badillo , the woman who a couple of years ago left about $ 1,000 playing Candy Crush. Or also like the players who, according to an EA worker, have been able to spend up to $ 15,000 on the Mass Effect.

Admission, of course, is not immediate. Nobody would go to a store to leave a month’s salary for an entertainment that will last a few weeks or a few months. The issue is that these payments are camouflaged, fractioned. They are the microtransactions, the pay to win or, as they are being popularized by the enormous controversy of the new Star Wars Battlefront , the loot boxes .

All these formulas together are the emerging and new model of the video game industry that has come to replace the previous one urgently. And if leaving this pasta in a game seems serious, wait to hear the worst: as they have begun to point out some countries this could lead to new generations of players to gambling .

Microtransactions? Pay to win ? What is happening to videogames since I left them?

These ideas are not strictly new, the signs of this new model take time between us . Although its pronounced use in this last year , as they have begun to announce the companies to present their great premieres, is what has made jump the alarms of the public.

The pay to win is the strategy known games like “Free to play” that are basically casual mobile games and social networks that let you play for free but to improve your experience in the game, create a subtle interactivity environment that encourages you to leave pasta to advance faster. You change time for money.

Microtransactions is how these payments are known. Skillfully, games do not make you pay in dollars, which could curb your consumerist impulse, but in virtual currencies. Crystals, gems, luminous powder that you buy with your money and that you exchange in the game for rewards. Being fake money, the feeling of spending is diluted.

Containers without content: the economic strategy of today’s great games

From there we go to the great debate, how these ideas are taking root in the triple A, those great games (the MMORPG, specifically) that move in the best consoles and in which we leave 60 or 70 dollars in its launch. To the initial package, many attachments are added over time to widen those game universes. Expansions, season passes or DLCs are some of these examples.

That type of secondary products (which, well, we had seen for more than a decade in games like Diablo or the Sims) are sold divinely and allow multiplying the sales of large development projects. The public can also give you an extra : if you have been 120 hours familiarizing yourself with a game system and nurturing your character and your team, it may seem good to leave you a few dollars more to explore new missions.

This model has been widening and widening for the benefit of the industry to the point where, as is happening, there are games in which this toll in the form of acquisition of expansions and DLC is becoming necessary to enjoy the game . This is what happened to Asuras Wrath , where the end did not even exist without those DLC, or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow , which also seemed incomplete without acquiring the DLC that would appear.

There are companies that even presume to launch their incomplete game. Great releases in which you and your friends get involved, play a couple of days and when you start to get the hang of it they put a barrier in the form of monetization to have the full experience. After you’ve spent 70 dollars in the store.

To finish, we go with the loot boxes. These same games also have options for booties or progression points that work as a surprise box. It is the scratch and win of video games: leave a handful of gems and open some chests to see what character, sword or armor you play. You could get a very juicy item, but of course, these functions are governed by perfectly studied algorithms : it is much more common that, at the expense level, you lose. Here only the house wins.

There are games in which the loot boxes are almost obligatory . That if we want to access the final good good , if we want to complete a certain mission, we will need a type of product that you can get by throwing some coins in boxes until you touch that juicy item or, well, if you are not in a hurry, throwing a lot of boring hours of game accumulating points.

And how many hours are we talking about? From there to the hundreds of dollars that we named at the beginning. As our colleagues from Vidaextraand Xataka told us , there are games that, to complete them (being a completist) will require 900 hours of your time. 900 hours against 680 dollars in loot boxes, you choose the path .

To compare, games of this kind from years ago, such as Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty Modern Warfare II , did not ask for so many transactions and gave us 120 or 160 hours of play. A time of experience adapted to the money that we have initially left fairly fair. And without having to get into raffles.

The players are very bounced because this entertainment ecosystem begins to disgust . They feel cheated and organized. They have come to load launches, as it has happened to the last Star Wars .

Does not anyone think about children?

And we go with the next point. An adult player, with his own income, has an irreproachable decision power to accept or not to be carried away by this way of spending. But and our children? We have our credit card linked to the Play in the classroom and the children of 10, 12 years old play Overwatch. What prevents you from buying a loot box? And seventeen?

Actually, and as explained by neuroscience , it is not that nothing prevents them from playing that, it is that this type of environment is what creates an authentic addiction that can turn them into small junkies . Their tactics are based on patterns of random reinforcement and according to the latest psychological diagnosis manual can cause a disorder.

Anyone who has opened one of those boxes knows what it is. An anticipation that causes immense pleasure . You are about to open the booty and you are seduced by the animations ( those sounds, those lights ) that surround the revelation of the prize. It may be a disappointment later, as often happens, but those times when you have been lucky cause an unforgettable stimulus in you, which you seek and seek more and more. In a word: slot machines.

It is not by chance that the casinos have particular legislations that differentiate these leisure products from others: gambling is the only addiction without recognized substance . Psychologists call it “variable speed booster” and it works almost at Paulovian levels.

When opening the boxes, the player basically looks for the dopamine shot of the experience rise and works to get the reward by giving a series of answers that he knows work, buying the chest. What happens? That the rewards are delivered unpredictably. And, as we have said, the kids can not escape this kind of behavior : their mechanics are already established in many current games, without which it is impossible to advance.

The level of attachment to looteo shows behavioral neurological similarities with other addictive disorders . Come on, like being hooked on tobacco or coca. It alters the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for computing and contextualizing the benefits and losses of one’s decisions. In the end you spend money impulsively because your brain has already made those processes. Physiologically children have not yet fully developed that part of their mind.

China is already forcing companies to disaggregate the odds that they will touch the jackpot prizes; Hawaii and Australia have publicly shown their concern about the loot boxes; The United Kingdom, following a citizen’s request, has said that it is already taking up the issue . The Belgians, the most diligent until now , want to command a regulation at level that limits practices that they consider pure games of chance. In spite of everything, to this day there is no limitation in most countries .

Everything paints what will be a growing discussion in the future . That, or we will begin to find rugged reports about how the withdrawal syndrome is affecting some teenager engaged in the last game of Star Wars.

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