U.S. Senate presses FTC to investigate video game loot boxes

Overwatch

Loot boxes have been the subject of controversy over the last few years, with games like Star Wars: Battlefront II coming under particularly heavy scrutiny for including gambling-like mechanics in competitive multiplayer. Countries in Europe, including Belgium, have already taken steps to combat loot boxes, and it appears the United States Federal Trade Commission will now follow suit.

During a U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire asked FTC commissioners about “additional oversight” regarding loot boxes and how they can appeal to children.

“Loot boxes are now endemic in the video game industry and are present in everything from casual smartphone games to the newest, high-budget video game releases,” Hassan said. “Loot boxes will represent a $50 billion industry by the year 2022, according to the latest research estimates.

Hassan asked the commissioners if this issue was something they were willing to look into, and they quickly agreed that it was. However, it remains to be seen what action — if any — will be taken as a result of an FTC investigation.

Following the hearing, the Entertainment Software Association sent a statement to Polygon, reaffirming that loot boxes are not gambling, because they hold no “real world” value and players always receive something, but some governments disagree.

Just last week, Square Enix was forced to pull three of its mobile games from digital storefronts in Belgium, later confirming that the reason for this was the country’s laws surrounding loot boxes.

Other companies have taken slightly less drastic steps to comply with the law. Blizzard disabled paid loot boxes in Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm, but players can still purchase the boxes through currency earned in the game itself.

But legal changes haven’t always prompted companies to make adjustments to their games, as players’ feedback has also done so, and it’s often quicker.

The aforementioned Star Wars: Battlefront II completely changed its progression system in response to feedback, moving away from offering “pay to win” loot boxes and only offering cosmetic items for direct purchase. The following year, Electronic Arts didn’t include any loot boxes in its shooter Battlefield V, though you can still purchase weapon skins and other cosmetic gear with real money.

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