FTC to look into legality of videogame loot boxes

FTC to look into legality of videogame loot boxes

posted Friday Nov 30, 2018 by Scott Ertz

FTC to look into legality of videogame loot boxes

Over the last year or so, the topic of loot boxes has become a focal point of countries around the world. This controversial practice involves a game either giving or selling players a box which represents a number of unknown items. Loot boxes have never been particularly popular with gamers, as most people want to know what they are buying unless there is an incentive for not knowing (grab bags in retail, for example).

Last year, EA took the concept up a notch with Star Wars: Battlefront II, which was met with anger from gamers. In time, the company admitted defeat, but left the door open to return the process in the future. The problem with the game was that purchasing loot boxes was almost required to advance through the game. In fact, the game would require 4,500 hours of gameplay (roughly 6 months) or $2,100 to complete. Neither of these options was particularly likely.

The US Federal Trade Commission has decided to look into the legality of loot boxes. In particular, they are worried about the relationship between loot boxes and gambling. Senator Maggie Hassan said in a hearing,

So given the seriousness of this issue, I think it is in fact time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms to ensure that children are being adequately protected and to educate parents about potential addiction or other negative impacts of these games.

Loot boxes definitely have a lot of similarities to gambling, especially when they are purchased versus rewarded. You spend money and receive an unknown collection of items with an unpredictable combined value. For example, look at Overwatch. A loot box could potentially contain 4 sprays (stencils), icons, or voice lines: all of which are low value. It could also contain a costume or costume piece, or potentially all costumes and costume pieces, all of which are worth far more than the previous collection. The rush that comes with the potential of what you could get is very similar to the rush you get when pulling the handle on a slot machine.

The investigation process is in the very early stages, as the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee has only just asked the FTC to look into the process. If their findings are anywhere similar to those of other countries, regulations over the process are likely to follow.

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