FTC to investigate loot boxes in video games

Jessica S. December 3, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission has finally agreed to look into the matter of loot boxes in video games.

Loot boxes have long been a controversial issue in video games. Players can spend real world money to purchase loot boxes, only to get a randomized prize. Prizes received are often common and easily acquired, but there is a slim chance at a more rare and prestigious award. The practice has drawn subsequent comparisons to gambling.

The topic of loot boxes in gaming was heated up by Star Wars Battlefront 2, which offered boxes that would give a chance to acquire characters and enhancements that affected gameplay and would have taken many hours to achieve through gameplay.

The Entertainment Software Association released a statement this week denying that loot boxes represented gambling. “Loot boxes are one way that the player can enhance the experiences that video games offer. Contrary to assertions, loot boxes are not gambling,” the ESA said. “They [loot boxes] have no real-world value, players always receive something that enhances their experience, and they are entirely optional to purchase.”

Agencies opposing loot boxes argue that they represent a games of chance, just the same as gambling, and that they’re often directed towards children. Legislation prohibiting advertising cigarettes to minors is often used as a point of comparison.

Some countries outside the United States have already considered the subject, in some cases legislating against loot boxes. Belgium declared loot boxes a form of gambling and is criminally investigating Star Wars Battlefront 2 developer Electronic Art’s participation in the practice.

As part of the investigation the FTC will call both game companies and relevant industry agencies in to discuss the subject.

If loot boxes are found to be deceptive or unfair, the FTC may choose to regulate the industry.

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