Loot Box Investigations Underway

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Via Polygon- “The Federal Trade Commission today agreed to investigate video game loot boxes, following an official request by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

In a Congressional oversight committee hearing earlier today, FTC chairman Joe Simons affirmed Sen. Hassan’s request that loot boxes be investigated. The exchange took place in a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing that was mainly focused on data privacy issues, but which ranged into other territories.

‘Loot boxes are now endemic in the video game industry and are present in everything from casual smart phone games to the newest, high budget releases,’ said Hassan, adding that loot boxes will ‘represent a $50 billion industry by the year 2022,’ likely referring to a report earlier this year from Juniper Research.

Games publishers often include loot boxes in their games, which offer in-game boosts and prizes, sometimes at a cost. The practice has flourished in recent years, particularly following enormous success in games like the FIFA series, but it has also been met with consumer resistance in the past year. In 2017, Electronic Arts retooled Star Wars Battlefront 2 following accusations that the game was designed around extracting cash from players through loot crates.

Hassan warned that children are particularly susceptible to loot boxes, and that they represent a ‘close link’ to gambling. She pointed to moves in other countries, including Japan, the Netherlands and Belgium, to bring in legislation to control the use of video game loot boxes. Last year, Reps. Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan held a news conference in Hawaii that assailed loot crates for preying on children.”

It seems as though the United States is going to be following the example of Belgium to an extent. The ethical practice of loot boxes has been a point of controversy for over a year now. Many have warned about the dangers loot boxes present to children, drawing a comparison to gambling. I can certainly see this viewpoint as I work with the very audience which Hassan suggested is vulnerable. Cosmetic items definitely appeal to children; they want to have the newest and coolest skins available, especially if it’s only available for a limited time.

While I am in no way a gambling addict, there is definitely a certain sense of anticipation when opening the event-oriented loot boxes that I earned in Overwatch as I enjoy most of their skins for the characters. But I’m also an adult that has a real world understanding about the concept of money. The Entertainment Software Rating Board’s response to the article is one that I find to be of peculiar interest:

“Update: The ESA sent us the following statement: ‘Loot boxes are one way that players can enhance the experience that video games offer. Contrary to assertions, loot boxes are not gambling. They have no real-world value, players always receive something that enhances their experience, and they are entirely optional to purchase. They can enhance the experience for those who choose to use them, but have no impact on those who do not.’”

I would say that by putting a real-word price on loot boxes, they inherently have a real-world value. If the only way to earn these loot boxes was through a leveling system or in-game currency which could not be purchased with mom or dad’s credit card, then I would agree with this statement. Another point of contention is that unless the ESA is discussing solely cosmetic items which in no way affect gameplay, then the “enhancement of the experience” does impact those who don’t choose to purchase these boxes of chance. It is my hope that there will be some restrictions put into place that will reduce the risk of children being taken advantage of for the sake of a company making money.

What are your thoughts on the “loot box controversy?” Leave us a comment below or a voicemail at (347) 509-5620.