Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation into loot boxes, attempting to gain an understanding of the practice to further protect children. While the results of this enquiry have yet to be made public, the regulator has announced that it will be holding a public forum to gain the insight of industry insiders later this year.
Loot boxes have been around for quite some time, offering randomised rewards within video games for completing tasks. EA drew attention to the practice with the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II in 2017, controversially monetising loot boxes that were heavily tied to progression before listening to complaints and making changes accordingly. This has since sparked an on-going conversation across the world to determine whether loot boxes are akin to gambling.
Two weeks ago, US Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) voice her concern that the “psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance,” urging the FTC to “review the completeness of the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children.”
Fortunately, it seems as though chairman Joe Simons is listening. Although Simons refused to comment on the supposed investigation that launched in November, he did reveal that the regulator was open to hearing from “consumer advocacy organisations, parent groups, and industry members” in a recent letter. The aim is to hold a meeting that would “elicit information to guide subsequent consumer outreach, which could include consumer alert.”
Although it is unclear when the gathering will take place, Hassan has gone on record to applaud the effort. “I appreciate the FTC’s continued engagement on the issue of loot boxes, particularly in regards to the well-being of young gamers. A public workshop on loot boxes is a step in the right direction, and I encourage the FTC to continue working with consumer advocates, parents, gamers, and industry members to ensure that meaningful improvements are made to increase transparency and consumer protections around loot boxes.”
It’s unclear which way the verdict could lean, given that Belgium and the Netherlands have already cracked down on loot boxes as an “illegal” practice. Even countries such as the UK are re-evaluating their stance and engaging in a developing discussion.
KitGuru Says: I do feel as though premium loot boxes have a psychological link to gambling by hooking people with instant gratification and encouraging further payments. Still, it will be interesting to see how the discussion evolves over time. Where do you stand on loot boxes?