Not many people are familiar with the term "lootbox". At the same time, most people have encountered lootboxes more often than they might realize. Have you ever played a shooter video game or social media game like "Candy Crush" or Cityville?" If so, you have most definitely encountered the lootbox concept.
Let's assume you enjoy playing video games, particularly shooter games. You reach a critical point in the game when you are out of lives or ammunition or something else you might need to keep the game going forward. Then you realize there is this icon you can click that offers you the opportunity to purchase the virtual things you will need in order to continue the video gaming experience. That stuff you can buy is called "loot." The page you are looking at is called the lootbox.
After that explanation, a light probably went on in your head. You have most likely been dealing with lootboxes for years without knowing what they are called. Now you know. With that in mind, we can now address the titled questions in a way you might understand.
Lootboxes exist as a means for gaming software developers to make extra money. They need the revenue because many of the online games they have created are free to the public, be it through social media or a free download. Buying virtual merchandise from a software developer is nothing more than a consumer transaction for the gamer. To answer the titled question, no, lootboxes are not classified as some form of gambling.
To further clarify, gambling is a risk/reward enterprise. Gamblers have to risk their hard-earned money for the chance to win more money. Lootboxes do not create any risk. If a gamer makes a lootbox purchase, they are doing so to fulfill a want or need. It's really no different than buying a pair of needed shoes or buying popcorn at the movies. The game loot is intended as a means to enrich or sustain the gaming experience.
We have established that lootboxes unto themselves have nothing to do with gambling. However, lootboxes can create and contribute to addictive behaviors. In that way, lootboxes have something very much in common with gambling. Since kids do lots of gaming and also get hit with lootbox offers, we all need to be concerned about the entire concept behind lootboxes.
As we inferred above, gaming software developers make some of their money by licensing games to free gaming websites. The free gaming websites extend the offer to play to the general public. They typically make their money through ads located on the gaming site.
The games that fall into this category might come with limited lives, supplies, or time constraints. These virtual shortages can create anxiety among highly motivated gamers who are committed to finishing what they start. When they reach a shortage of something they need, the fact they can remove that shortage for a few dollars is quite tempting.
A responsible and rational person might hit the lootbox once in a while as nothing more than paying for some additional entertainment value. Unfortunately, gamers who are vulnerable to gaming addiction might see lootbox purchases as a must, or they face the trauma of not being able to continue on with the game they are playing. That is a sign of gaming addiction, and it's quite different than an online gambling addiction.
If someone has an online gambling addiction, they will have ways to combat the addiction. In the UK, the UK Gambling Commission drives online operators to become members of the GamStop Self-exclusion scheme. That program gives online gamblers a way to tell licensed online gambling operators that the gamblers need help staying away from online gambling sites. The program works so well that registered gamblers who change their minds are forced to choose UK online casinos not on GamStop ban as an alternative for their gambling activities.
Gamers don't have the same access to a really strong self-exclusion process when their video gaming goes awry. The availability of lootboxes for the purchase of virtual merchandise can exacerbate addictive behavior. With little to no protection, compulsive video gaming ends up looking just like compulsive gambling. That is exactly the reasoning opponents of the lootbox concept use in their efforts to eliminate or regulate lootboxes.
Here in 2022, children are more precocious than they were 20 years ago. Not only can they play video games at a high level at a young age, but they also know how mommy and daddy use debit/credit cards to make online purchases.
You have to remember, kids are vulnerable to everything and everyone. They have no way to filter out bad decisions from good decisions. If they want loot from a lootbox, they aren't concerned about cost. All they know is they have a want/need and will seek ways to fulfill that want/need. If mommy and daddy say no to the lootbox purchase, it's not beyond some kids to find ways to make the purchase anyway.
While it's clear lootboxes have no direct connection to gambling, they can become a contributing factor to addictive gaming behavior that looks and feels like online gambling addictive behavior.