There has been growing concern over the use of loot boxes in video games for quite a while and the issue has finally gotten the attention of the United States Federal Trade Commission. This comes in the wake of similar efforts by several other countries including the United Kingdom and Australia that have been looking into the issue very seriously for the past year or so.
First used in Japan in the early 2000s, loot boxes were used in video games that added extra functionality that allowed players to earn points to win extra virtual lives or weapons in rooms or in a treasure box. The name “loot box” was derived from the fact that there were treasure boxes to loot. They were originally considered be extra features in video games but as time went by, the video game companies began to realize how valuable purchases could be. From then on, the video game manufacturers began to add extra rooms, lives, prizes, equipment, and characters that could be purchased by the players. At the same time, the video game and app developers began to make the loot boxes more difficult for the gamers and this is perhaps when the controversy started.
How It All Started
The first time that video game developers came under fire was when Star Wars Battlefront 2 came out in the spring of 2018. At the time there had already been a number of accusations flying around due to the very high prices of loot boxes. Star Wars Battlefront, however, took everything a step further when they chose to use a random number generator (RNG) with their loot boxes. Random number generators, as we all know, are synonymous with gambling activities and their inclusion in the games put it at the same scale as slot machines which use them to decide which spins win and which wins do not.
The very fact that loot boxes could be compared with gambling activities to such levels became a huge problem especially in jurisdictions where gambling activities are considered to be illegal. The problem is further alleviated due to a new trend where a number of sites have cropped up allowing gamers to take these loot boxes and sell them for cash or crypto.
Reasons for the FTC’s Investigations
The first course of action for the Federal Trade Commission will be to establish whether these loot boxes are forms of gambling according to state and federal laws. In addition to this, the commission will be investigating whether or not the loot boxes are encouraging gambling behavior especially among people who are under-age. It is likely that the FTC will take cues from other investigations into loot boxes – they include countries like Australia and Belgium where the governments are already looking into legislation to ban them.