Parents Sue Epic Games Over Fortnite Loot Boxes
Video game loot boxes continue to be a topic of conversation and now a major player in the gaming industry has a legal battle on its hands. Epic Games was recently sued by the parents of a minor who have accused the company of engaging in “predatory” practices with its loot boxes.
Loot Boxes: Gambling or Not?
Loot boxes have become a common vehicle gaming companies have employed over the last several years to both encourage customers to play their games frequently and to generate revenue; the latter is particularly the case with free-to-play games. This may not seem like something to write about on a gambling-related news site, but that’s the thing: many people consider loot boxes to be a form of gambling. I am a gamer myself and I am one of those people who feel that loot boxes are gambling. Allow me to explain.
Loot boxes are mystery boxes that can be earned through in-game progression (most often via an experience points/leveling up system) or purchased via a game’s online store for real money or in-game currency that can be bought with real money. Contained within these loot boxes are items to be used in-game. In some games, like Overwatch or the newly popular Apex Legends, the items are purely cosmetic – things like character skins, voice lines, and the like – and do not affect gameplay at all. In other games, like Epic Games’ Fortnite, some items do serve a purpose in the game and can give a player an advantage. Items have varying degrees of rarity; the rarest items are typically the most desired. PokerStars’ Chests are very much like loot boxes, except that you only earn them through playing poker and cannot purchase them individually.
I, along with others, consider loot boxes to be gambling because if you use real money to buy one, you are risking something of real value on something in which the outcome is uncertain in order to win a prize. Now, all loot boxes contain items, so in that sense some – particularly gaming companies – don’t consider them to be gambling, but in practical application, most items have little to no value, either in the game or in real-world terms. Players are buying loot boxes to try to nab the rare items.
As a reminder, every game that I can think of does give out loot boxes just for playing, so buying them is not necessary, but obviously people do buy them. I also have no problem with loot boxes that only contain cosmetic items, as there is no advantage to spending tons of money on them.
Parents: Loot Boxes Prey on the Unknowing Customer
The parents who filed the lawsuit against Epic Games are concerned with the loot boxes in the “Save the World” portion of the game. This is the solo/co-op part of game players have to buy, as opposed to the free “Battle Royale” game mode that has swept the planet.
“Because Fortnite Save the World’s game progression is inextricably linked to loot progression, players are pushed to keep seeking better loot to progress in the game,” the lawsuit states. “Accordingly, Epic designed Fortnite Save the World to effectively limit a player’s ability to progress within the game without spending money on loot boxes.”
Again, players can still earn loot boxes (which are in the form of llama pinatas in Fortnite) just by playing, but the plaintiffs claim that Save the World is designed to push players in the direction of purchasing loot boxes in order to progress deeper into the game.
“The scheme plays out perfectly to the benefit of Epic: once players are sufficiently invested in the game, Epic induces players to purchase loot boxes in order to get better loot, which results in massive revenue to Epic.”
Epic Games did change the system early this year, changing the llamas that are purchased into “X-Ray Llamas.” With the new llamas, players can see their contents before buying and if they don’t like what they see, they can wait for the daily store to refresh and check back the next day. The lawsuit is about the child’s play before this change was made.
The plaintiff in the suit claims that Epic Games would display the most valuable possible loot for a llama in order to entice someone to buy one, but did not disclose the odds of actually receiving this rare bounty. The child, his parents say, would never have bought Fortnite llamas if he knew that the chances of getting the items he wanted were next to nothing.
“The reality is while players expect to receive top-tier loot, they don’t get it. This causes players, especially minors, to continue to spend money seeking that next gold Llama or mythic item when it reality the odds are undisclosed and heavily weighed against them.
Fortnite is an ATM
According to SuperData Research, Fortnite generated the most annual revenue of any video game ever in 2018, earning $2.4 billion. The vast majority of Fortnite players play the free Battle Royale version, so most of that $2.4 billion comes from buying in-game currency, which in turn is used to buy the llama pinata loot boxes. For reference, its main competitor of last year, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the number one “premium” game, or game that you have to buy to play, and it made $1.028 billion.