Remember what I was saying before about how microtransactions are geared specifically to exploit addicts and “If you don’t like it don’t buy it” isn’t an argument?
Thank you for @-ing me.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a specialist problem gambling financial counsellor. This means that I’m specially trained, qualified and experienced in aiding the rehabilitation of people struggling with problem gambling, and working with people who are affected by others’ problem gambling protect themselves and rebuild their lives. I spend 30% of the hours of my day job working with these people.
I’m going to make a very bold statement: micro-transactions with a ‘chance’ element are gambling. They are what is called an ‘embedded gambling element’ in a game. They may be a ‘softer’ form of gambling than sitting at a poker machine, but they are gambling. They normalise gambling to children (which has been shown to lead to problem gambling). They groom future problem gamblers, and they exploit people who have neurochemical imbalances (ie, depression). There is a very, very strong link between gambling and mental illness. People who gamble in games are more likely to susceptible to current and future gambling problems.
I’m going to focus on lootboxes in Overwatch, because it’s the game I know the most about. I also know a lot about how poker machines are psychologically designed to be highly addictive, specifically exploiting known psychological triggers to reel people in and keep them spending.
Overwatch lootboxes do the same – you know that feel of seeing a purple/gold coin flipping in the air??? OMG! Is it going to be THAT THING YOU REALLY!!!!-oh.
Bright colours, exciting lights, the visceral feel of pushing the button/spinning the wheel is important to addiction. Blizzard has does the same with lootboxes – by vibrating your controller. By shaking the camera. By having the lootbox rATTLE AND EXPLODE!!!! with your reward. The sounds and specially engineered to build excitement and tensions and remind you of wealth. The ‘coin’ system of the lootbox reminds you of wealth. This is all super deliberate – it’s not a mistake. Using subconscious cues like exploding money boxes!!! the sound of money, the shape of money – that’s likening the process to a lottery.
While it’s quite unlikely someone could actually spend ENORMOUS amounts of money chasing that ‘jackpot’ (the skin they really want for their character, for example), it is possible. HOWEVER, it’s much more likely that the person will have this sort of reward system normalised, will find the element of chance ‘exciting’ (because, dude, we’re psychologically engineered to be more interested in ‘chance’ events than certain/impossible events), and seek out and enjoy other similar passtimes. Like actual gambling with real money.
Every time you gamble, you change the structure of your brain. I’m not exaggerating. Every time you take a chance on that lootbox, you flood your brain with adrenaline and dopamine. The presence of those two neurochemicals changes the density of the receptors of them minutely. After a few boxes, it’s unlikely you’ll become addicted. However, if you keep doing it, your receptors change density so that you need more adrenaline and more dopamine to get the same excitement and pleasure from the hit.
Worse, this rush of adrenaline and dopamine is much, much more addictive to people with mental illness (or a susceptibility to mental illness), as the presence of these chemicals is a very unhealthy (but unfortunately effective, at least in the extremely short term) way of medicating mental illness. Unfortunately, because of the escalating changes in receptor density, it eventually makes mental illness much worse in the long run. There is a strong link between gambling and suicide.
Compare your first lootbox with the lootboxes you get now. Are you getting the same enjoyment? Nope.
Think how many times you bought 11 lootboxes…. only to buy another 11 and another 11 and another 11. It becomes mechanical, pressing that button, opening another lootbox. Kind of like sitting at a poker machine.
Think about how normal the lootbox system seems now.
Chance-based gambling reward systems in games are dangerous, and should be replaced either by work-and-reward systems (you get 10 credits per level, and you can spend these on rewards of your choice), combined with micro-transaction-based currency for people who do not have the time to commit to leveling 300 times for that epic Christmas skin.
Remove chance. Just remove it.