Based upon a request by U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), the Federal Trade Commission has agreed to investigate video game loot boxes. The FTC will look into whether loot boxes constitute an illegal form of online gambling.
Loot boxes are virtual boxes of items that are available for purchase in video games. Although players do not know exactly what items they get when they buy a loot box, they generally consist of digital goods, such as stats upgrades, boosts, skins, weapons, armor, outfits and other in-game merchandise. Loot boxes are a way for video game publishers to monetize gameplay and are predominantly present in online games that are free-to-play. Thanks to the popularity of games such as Overwatch and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, loot boxes have become relatively common in the industry. But the concept of loot boxes also makes them controversial.
Polygon reports the FTC will look into loot boxes to determine if they are a form of illegal gambling. This investigation comes after a request from Hassan at a recent Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing. Hassan said:
“It’s time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms to ensure that children are being adequately protected. And to educate parents about potential addiction and other negative impacts of these games."
A recent UK study suggests that loot boxes lead to a rise in childhood gambling. Perhaps this is why other countries have taken a stand against them. Both Belgium and the Netherlands have a full ban on loot boxes after declaring that they are a form of illegal gambling. Other countries are also investigating similar theories.
With loot boxes bringing in so much money to the industry, there is a growing concern that video game publishers are taking advantage of players by creating games where buying loot boxes are almost essential to continuing gameplay. This issue came up with Star Wars Battlefront 2: - the idea of microtransactions in that title became so controversial that loot boxes were removed before the game released, although they have since been reinstated.
As long as loot boxes are available, though, it does seem players will buy them. One analyst attributed this to the stupidity of consumers who will buy as many loot boxes as it takes to get a specific item. That same analyst, though, believes the U.S. would never pass legislation concerning loot boxes. However, with the FTC now investigating the matter, perhaps the U.S. will follow Belgium and the Netherlands in banning loot boxes for good. This move will, obviously, shake the video game industry to its core and it could even mean the end of free-to-play games.