Video game fans are expected to dig deep in the coming years as loot box spending is set to reach $50 billion by 2022.
Pay-to-win gaming has become something of a talking point in recent months, kickstarted by EA's marketing disaster with Star Wars: Battlefront II. Offering a sometimes unfair advantage to players, the odds have still been stacked against gamers thanks to developers' unscrupulous tactics and dwindling chances of getting what they want for real-life money.
According to tech analysts Juniper Research (via GamesIndustry), the popularity of loot boxes and skin gambling will skyrocket in the near future as players continue to part with their hard-earned cash. Fans are thought to be currently spending around $30 billion on the trend, but it will jump by another $20 billion by the time 2022 rolls around. Juniper also had a harsh message about the dangers of skin gambling, offering the following advice:
"Juniper strongly recommends regulation for skin trading and gambling, in an attempt to both prevent youth participation and remove malicious actors who run sites which steal skins or short-change users."
Although the likes of Steam have tried to clamp down on the underworld practice of gambling cosmetic looks and weapons, skin gambling is still a huge part of a lot of games. In fact, the Valve-run company has inadvertently created a virtual marketplace of crime where players can swap their items and characters for real-world money while Steam takes a 5% cut of the profits.
EA bosses have already said they are deeply sorry for the Battlefront debacle, but it hasn't stopped the game slowly reintroducing real money back into the game. The incoming update will only allow players to spend money on skins like Endor Leia and wounded Chewie, with the company now seemingly terrified of what loot boxes could do to its already tattered reputation. However, while EA is taking it easy, other companies are heading into loot box territory all guns blazing. BioWare has already promised that fans have "never seen before" with its multiplayer emphasis for Athem, but it is expected to rely heavily on loot box mechanics.
Interestingly, Juniper's report is the opposite of analyst Doug Creutz, who suggested microtransactions would calm down in 2018. Loot boxes were once a randomized reward for progression in a game, but they have become increasingly popular as a monetization of the feature. EA found out the hard way that not everyone is in favor of loot boxes, leading to the most down-voted comment in the history of Reddit. However, games like FIFA Ultimate Team, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Halo 5: Guardians, and Gears of War 4 means that Battlefront II isn't alone in its loot box drama. Even a mountain of negative press and intellectual debate hasn't stopped loot boxes and skin gambling becoming more popular and ever.
Whether spending drops through the floor or goes through the roof, it will never stop loot boxes and other tactics being a controversial topic of debate in the industry. Perhaps the biggest worry is that loot boxes and skin gambling are "normalizing" gambling for young people without thinking of the consequences. Gaming regulators have been slow on the uptake when it comes to tackling this issue, but Juniper Research's findings highlight the problem. Either way, it doesn't sound like loot boxes are going anywhere any time soon, so critics and fan alike had better settle in for the long haul.