In a tale of gambling addiction posted to Reddit shortly before Christmas, the numbers were as shocking as they were unsurprising. First the anonymous addict frittered away $200 (£149), in November 2016. Then $700 more, later that month. Then $300, $400, $1,500 … eventually, by December 2017, a credit card debt of $16,000, too large to be kept a secret any longer. It’s a painful narrative, one that’s not softened through repeated telling.
What might be more surprising is the particular type of gambling under discussion. This man hadn’t lost his money betting on football, or feeding notes into a fixed-odds betting terminal. He had been playing the mobile video game Final Fantasy: Brave Exodus (FFBE), a free-to-play game for android and iOS based on the Final Fantasy series.
It’s one of a number of games which use a similar system to reel in, and profit from, players. Unlockables – be they new characters in FFBE, new players in the Fifa football sims, weapon upgrades in the new Star Wars game Battlefront II, or car parts in racing game Need For Speed – aren’t available for direct sale. Instead players buy, with real money or in-game currency, a random item or set of items, in what are termed “loot boxes”. Players have no guarantee of what they’ll get, and no way to guide the game into giving them something they need or want.
The system is a sort of weaponised behavioural psychology, perfectly pitched to exploit all the cognitive weaknesses that make people so susceptible to addiction and compulsion.
Read it all (my emphasis).