There has been a significant amount of controversy surrounding loot boxes in games recently. Gamers have voiced their dislike of the business model, saying that the randomized unlock systems found in games constitute gambling. Legislators and some gambling authorities around the world have also weighed in on the debate, introducing laws and policies to tackle the issue. The Belgian Gaming Commission is even pursuing criminal prosecution.
The latest person to offer their two cents on the matter is Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. In an interview with Bloomberg, the Nintendo executive said, “Loot boxes, broadly speaking, have gotten a bit of a bad rap.” Fils-Aime compared the business model to baseball cards as the people buying them are spending money without being sure of what’s inside.
While the executive does note that developers have made “some mistakes” when it comes to the implementation of loot boxes, Nintendo believes that they are just one mechanic able to “drive on-going engagement in the game.” According to Fils-Aime, Nintendo feels that loot boxes “can be interesting as long as that’s not the only way you can get those items.”
Those who dislike loot boxes may be disappointed that Fils-Aime hasn’t outright condemned the business model. However, that was always unlikely given that Nintendo has regularly featured loot boxes in its mobile games. Fire Emblem Heroes made millions using the gacha-style unlocks in which players randomly unlock characters (though they are able to see a list of odds). Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp also recently introduced a loot box-style mechanic in the form of Fortune Cookies.
Moreover, as Fils-Aime himself notes, loot boxes can drive long-term engagement with players. Nintendo has already spoken about its desire to release more DLC for its games in an effort to increase engagement. Loot boxes can also be seen as a way to get players to spend time and money on its titles once they’ve been released and so fit well with Nintendo’s business plans moving forward. Many of Nintendo’s partners and those that release games on its platforms feel similarly and it won’t want to make comments that actively disrupt those relationships either.
But some may also be glad to hear that Fils-Aime and Nintendo support loot boxes that don’t contain exclusive content. While some would prefer if loot boxes were not included whatsoever, many are willing to accept them if they don’t include gameplay-affecting items (are cosmetic-only) and the content can still be unlocked through normal play, as the executive suggested. That won’t satisfy everyone, but as it seems that Nintendo has no plans to ditch loot boxes any time soon, making this some form of compromise.