Are randomized loot boxes equivalent to gambling?
If a gamer buys a “loot box,” a digital container with hidden prizes inside, on a chance that he will receive a better in-game item, is that analogous to gambling? Are randomized loot boxes that one buys with real-world money equivalent to gambling? The merchandise hidden within the loot box is not revealed until after the transaction of real money has been made and the person’s satisfaction with the purchase is left up to chance. The controversy revolves around the fact that video game communities are made up of more younger people than seniors with a large number of gamers being minors; loot boxes in games may be exposing more kids to gambling at younger ages. Are video game marketplaces encouraging adolescents to gamble?
The countries of Belgium and The Netherlands have already enacted legislation to ban loot boxes in video games and the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia may not be too far behind them. The U.S.’s Federal Trade Commission pledged to investigate loot boxes in video games back in November of 2018 after U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) brought up the subject at an F.T.C. hearing. Last year, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) sponsored a bill in the United States Senate to regulate supposedly “casino-like mechanisms” in video games. The issue is definitely gaining traction among politicians to the point where they are receiving backlash from organizations like the Entertainment Software Association representing the video game industry in the form of lobbying efforts.
“One of the hallmarks of our industry overall is not only trying to create value for consumers but listening to consumers. We are probably the most responsive to consumers of any industry (E.S.A. President & C.E.O. Stanley Pierre-Louis, 2019).”
There are some companies that have already taken an initiative against this controversy. Epic Games’ Fortnite utilizes “season passes” and individual purchases where the gamer understands exactly what they are purchasing. Bungie has adopted a similar marketplace style with Destiny 2. However; the ultimate question is whether or not regulation of gaming marketplaces should be under the jurisdiction of the private sector or the public sector as well as how much oversight should parents have over their children’s video game habits – THAT debate is just now kicking off.