The controversy around loot boxes in video games seems to have subsided a little since the end of 2017. However, the issue is far from over and a Washington State Senator, Kevin Ranker (D), recently requested that the Washington State Gambling Commission look into the loot box issue. He is hoping that the state’s gambling commission will be able to decide once and for all if loot boxes in video games are a form of gambling. He’s also hoping they can determine whether microtransactions in games, including loot boxes, constitute predatory behaviour towards young children playing the games.
What is a Loot Box?
If you have completely missed the loot box controversy from 2017, here is a brief catch up. Loot boxes are defined as virtual in-game chests that contain randomly-generated in-game items. These items range from very common items, to very rare and exclusive ones. Some games only have cosmetic items in these chests, while others have started putting items in the loot boxes that can actually improve a player’s performance in the game. Loot boxes have been found in free-to-play games for some time, as a way for the developer to make money and keep the game running. However, in 2017 they started appearing in full-price AAA video games.
Loot boxes help keep players interested in the games and ensure players keep spending money. Many have started to compare them to slot machines, due to their random nature. The main issue is that these loot boxes can be addictive to those who might suffer from a gambling addiction. There have been reports of people spending $10 000 on these in-game loot boxes.
2017’s Loot Box Controversy is not Over
The loot box controversy burst onto the scene in the second half of 2017, with games like Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Middle Earth: Shadow of War. Both these games made full use of loot boxes, despite costing $60. In addition to this, Battlefront 2’s loot boxes give players actual in-game advantages in an online multiplayer game. This meant that players who spent more money on loot boxes would have better equipment in the game.
The outcry made headlines in mainstream media and has caused governments to take a closer look at loot boxes. This is because many believe that these are blurring the line between video games and gambling. This is problematic when so many children are playing these games. The main issue is that loot boxes aren’t technically gambling. When a player buys a loot box, they are guaranteed to get something out of it. While the items they receive might not be what they wanted, they will get something.
The Washington State Senator wants the gambling regulatory board to decide for itself if loot boxes constitute gambling under state laws, as well as deciding whether these systems should be used in video games at all. If they decide these systems can be sued, they must then decide how to protect minors from these games.