After months of anticipation, Star Wars Battlefront II made its U.S. debut, immediately making its dent in the video game galaxy. And while last minute changes designed to address gamers’ complaints about the game’s difficulty were made, a controversial decision that lets players pay extra to unlock the game’s best characters more quickly has caused some Star Wars fans to rebel on social media, saying the game’s loot crate digital rewards system is a form of gambling.
The concern is over how Battlefront II rewards players with loot crates filled with randomized items. In addition to earning these crates, players can also buy them via micro transactions that convert real world dollars into in-game currency. But since the items are random, players don’t know what they’re buying, and that could be a problem for both Electronic Arts (EA, +0.30%) which developed the game, and Disney (DIS, +0.24%), which owns Star Wars.
In order for a game to be legally considered gambling, three elements must be involved: consideration, prize, and chance. Money that a person pays to participate in a game is the consideration. The game’s rewards are the prize. And chance is any random element that can effect winning. So, if you’ve got a game of chance (like rolling dice) that’s pay-to-play and has a prize—like street craps—it’s gambling because it has all three of the necessary elements.
However, some games, like a church’s bingo night, may also have a consideration, prize, and chance, but they typically fund non-profits and are heavily regulated, so they tend to be regarded as legal. Meanwhile other games like poker have been made admissible under some states’ laws because they are arguably games of skill, not chance. The argument here is that regardless of how the cards are shuffled, a skilled poker player has the ability to effect the outcome of the contest.
Video games like Star Wars Battlefront II are rarely even considered to be gambling because they’re typically thought of as games of skill. Players have the ability to control their own fate through their knowledge and the expertise they’ve amassed while playing the game repeatedly. Also, video games aren’t typically thought of as gambling because there’s usually no consideration, and their prizes have no cash value.
But two elements of the new Star Wars game have muddied this water and led gamers to call the title “gambling.” The first element is the randomized prizes generated by Battlefront II’s “loot crate” reward system. The second is EA’s decision to let gamers use actual money via “microtransactions” to buy “crystals,” which can in turn be redeemed for loot crates full of randomly-assigned rewards. Players can earn crystals through gameplay without spending any money.