United States and Australian Governments Will Be Investigating Loot Boxes

The FTC is investigating loot boxes — but not for the right reasons

Credit Blizzard

Now, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has agreed to launch its own investigation. Now the cause is being taken up by the FTC, at the request of New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan. Earlier this year, Hassan questioned potential nominees to be Federal Trade Commission Commissioners about their stances on topics including loot boxes, and many of those nominees are among those addressed today. "Contrary to assertions, loot boxes are not gambling", the Entertainment Software Association, a gaming lobbying firm, told PCMag in an email.

The inquiry is mostly focused on the dangers facing children, rather than the ethical side of the argument.

She also reinforced the Gambling Commission's previously mentioned study, through warning how children are most susceptible to loot boxes, a feature she claimed as a "close link" to gambling. Referencing a Juniper Research report from earlier this year, Hassan says loot boxes will be a $50 billion industry by 2022. Because of that, "in-game purchases such as the loot box mechanic have become a core revenue prop", and the industry has grown reliant on a small portion of gamers who spend heavily on microtransactions-"whales", as they're sometimes called.

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No timeline has been provided as of yet regarding when the FTC may kick off its investigation into loot boxes or what the investigation might amount to. And Australian lawmakers held a series of hearings on the issue this year, culminating in a report to the Australian Senate finding that loot boxes risk exacerbating "gambling disorders" among some players. They work like this: You fork over cash to buy a mystery box, which may contain a valuable in-game item-but only if you're lucky. The loot boxes "have no real-world value, players always receive something that enhances their experience, and they are entirely optional to purchase".

This is particularly concerning-especially from a regulatory standpoint-when loot boxes make their way into kid's games. The ESRB continues to defend them as "enhancements" to videogame experiences, and it's quite clear the "AAA" game industry has no intention of regulating itself, even in the face of possible outside intervention.

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