Jake Banks | 11 Apr 2019

FTC Taking On Video Game Loot BoxesAmerica’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly launching a probe into the contentious loot boxes offered by so many modern video games. In a recent statement, the consumer protection agency noted that an investigation into the crates was on going, and that it was planning to hold a public workshop on the matter later in 2019.

The aforementioned forum invites representatives from the video gaming industry and consumer advocates alike to engage in conversations about the prevailing concerns raised by the controversial video game mechanism. Loot boxes are widely used by youths and children, which many view as a form of gambling that is being unethically supplied to minors.

Regulators vs. Consumer Protectors

The virtual crates are consumable in-game items that offer players a random chance to win in-game skills or items necessary for their advancement. Sometimes the boxes deliver items that are helpful to their recipients, but in other cases, they award items that have already been obtained or are of no help. There is no way for players to know until they have purchased a box for real money.

On the other hand, gamers are also usually given the choice to skip the randomized nature of this mechanic and use cash to purchase in-game currency or shell out for loot boxes via the game’s platform, too. In some titles, advancing by gameplay alone is so challenging and tedious that the continuous purchase of loot crates via microtransactions is practically a requirement for the completion of the game at hand.

Numerous jurisdictions around the world have noted that loot boxes do not fit their definitions of gambling, and thus do not fall under the control of their gambling regulators. Gambling is typically defined as risking ‘something of value’, be it money or other valuable items, by wagering it on a game of chance or a future occurrence not under the player’s control, in order to win something of an equal or greater value.

Hassan Suggests On-Game Warnings

A large majority also considers video game skills and items to be intrinsically valueless, although thousands of players (and some other gambling regulators) do not agree. However, just because regulators don’t consider loot boxes to fall under their jurisdictions doesn’t mean that consumer protection bodies can’t control them.

The FTC believes that the matter is not as much about whether or not the crates constitute gambling, but rather whether or not they are dangerous to young players and those who are prone to problem gambling. At the very least, says US Sen. Maggie Hassan, the current rating system should tell consumers when loot boxes are included in physical copies of video games.

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