Are Kids Gambling in Video Games via Loot Boxes?

That’s exactly what the Federal Trade Commission is trying to figure out as they investigate loot boxes in video games. There’s no telling what the verdict is going to be, or how it will impact games that use loot boxes as a method of “earning” new items. So, for now we’ll look at what loot boxes are, where this issue even came from, and what’s next. Let’s jump right in!

Where it all started

The issue began to really bubble up last year when Electronic Arts rolled out loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2. While loot boxes could be earned by leveling up, users could also just pay cash to unlock more. The items in the loot boxes range from cosmetic unlocks, to items that can impact the outcome of the match.

Many users saw them as “pay to win” and they began to question the randomization of what was in the boxes. This also led to many questioning if loot boxes constituted gambling amongst children.

But what are loot boxes?

They’re in-game items that allow gamers to win everything from common to exclusive items. They’re typically earned by achievements and leveling up in video games. However, in some games you can just pay cash in exchange for loot boxes.

Who this could impact

Any games that have loot boxes available for purchase. Especially if any of the boxes’ content contains items that can impact the match outcome. The FTC could determine whether or not loot boxes are deceptive, unfair, and if they’re a gateway to gambling. If so, they could implement a ban that would cover the whole gaming industry.

We’ve already seen some of the concerns come about with companies such as Netherlands and Belgium forcing Blizzard & Valve to disclose what’s inside the loot boxes before they’re purchased.

But what now?

While previous bills that have been introduced to restrict who could purchase loot boxes have died, the fact that the FTC is taking another look is something to keep monitoring. According to Great Britain’s Gambling Commission, about 31% of children in their country have paid money for a loot box. That can be seen as troubling to those that oppose the loot box model.

“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.” — Senator Maggie Hassan

While there has been a strong pushback from the gaming industry on whether or not loot boxes are a gateway to gambling, we can already see the caution. More games are starting to lean into premium passes as a way to reward players while generating additional revenue.

There currently isn’t a timeline on when the FTC will announce their findings. And there’s no telling what the FTC will do (even if it’s just adding a warning label) after their investigation, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

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