The FTC Finally Agreed to Investigate Loot Boxes

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has  decided to investigate loot boxes in video games. Much of the industry has been leaning on loot boxes, which offer more consistent revenue sources than one-time game sales, and lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned about the risks this approach to monetization poses to America's youth. Now the regulator is planning to do something about it.

Some lawmakers have been calling for the FTC, the game industry, and pretty much anyone who will listen to consider the effect loot boxes have on people who play games. Hawaii state representative Chris Lee (D) called for action in late 2017 after the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy, for example. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined earlier this week and directly called on the FTC to intervene.

The U.S. is actually coming late to the loot box regulation party. (Not a whole lot of people RSVP'd.) Dutch gaming authorities went after Valve in June, and in September, the European Union's gambling commission announced that it planned to investigate the trend. It makes sense--the only difference between loot boxes and typical gambling is that the former's prizes are in-game items rather than real money.

That's part of the reason why loot boxes are so effective. It doesn't matter how low the chances of getting something you actually want are if there's at least some possibility. Combine that with the fact that many games make opening loot boxes a spectacle filled with neat sound effects, cute animations, and the like, and it's no wonder so many gamers find themselves spending money on these digital slot machines.

This is particularly concerning--especially from a regulatory standpoint--when loot boxes make their way into kid's games. That's exactly what Hassan mentioned in the Congressional oversight committee where she asked the FTC to investigate the model. According to Polygon, Hassan said that children are especially vulnerable to the appeal of loot boxes, which is worrying given how close they are to gambling.

There's no telling how long it will take the FTC to investigate loot boxes or, if it agrees that they need to be regulated, how it will do so. Considering how vital these revenue sources have become to game companies, odds are good that they'll aggressively lobby to protect themselves from regulation. Regulators around the world are finally paying attention to the issue, though, and that's a good thing.

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  • ubercake
    Politicians are licking their chops at the possibility of yet another income source and campaign funding source: Game Publishers.

    If the price is right, loot boxes will continue.
  • anbello262
    299576 said:
    Politicians are licking their chops at the possibility of yet another income source and campaign funding source: Game Publishers. If the price is right, loot boxes will continue.

    Well, it's not about simply "eliminating them". It's just about regulating them, which sometimes means finding some middle ground, compromising. For example, only people 18+ are legally allowed to buy them (although we know that's somewhat useless), no boxes on games unless they are 13+, featured items should have a minimum chance or a way to get the item for sure after x+ tries (just like japanese mobile games, where you get the item you want for sure after 300 tries, even when it has around 0.015%)

    Regulation is not bad, and it doesn't mean eliminating stuff. It just means finding legal ways to apply it in a more controlled way that will lessen the negative impact for both parties.
  • Christopher1
    Agreed with Anbell0262. There is nothing wrong with regulation of these boxes though that "After 300 tries!" seems a little too.. high to me.
    Maybe after 25 boxes, assuming a box is 25 cents per.