Gaming Companies Aim To Change “Loot Boxes” Over Gambling Addiction Research

Published on August 12, 2019

After a recent study revealed that video game “loot boxes” pose a threat to those with gambling addictions, initiatives to change the gaming industry were created as a means of protecting consumers. It was announced in August that the video game trifecta Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony would be re-evaluating their policies on how loot boxes are presented in games offered through their platforms. The idea behind the policy change is that game companies would be forced to disclose a buyers odds of being given a desirable virtual item before purchasing.

Loot Boxes – A Background

Many video games today offer the opportunity for gamers to purchase game extensions or digital products using real money. In-app purchases such as loot boxes offer products that the gamer could not have gotten simply by playing the game. In many games, these are things like extra lives or special products. In some games, loot boxes help the player buy their way through the game. This can get expensive, quickly, particularly if the game requires users to purchase extra items in order to move forward within the game (something common to free game apps for the iPhone or Android).

In many cases, video game companies create blind grab bags for gamers to purchase within their corresponding games. These grab bags, which are called “loot boxes” only disclose potential items that the user can win. If a player of a first-person shooter game buys a loot box, for example, that promises to either include a powerful gun or a new outfit for their respective character, and doesn’t win the gun, they’re more likely to continue to buy the loot box in hopes that, at some point, they’ll win the prized item.

This poses a risk, particularly among those more likely to develop gambling addictions. At least, according to a recent study that was presented at a recent Federal Trade Commission workshop on the matter by Dr. David Zendle at York St. John University. Loot boxes are marketed in the same way that slot machines would advertise a big win. They give consumers an incentive to continue putting money into the slot machine in hopes that they’ll hit the jackpot. The issue, though, is that where gambling has strict regulations and age restrictions; video game loot boxes do not.

Loot Boxes To Be Regulated By Game Companies

Because loot boxes are purchased online, it would be hard for the Federal Trade Commission to implement strict legal regulations. This is, at least, in the same ways that there are regulations to prevent underage gambling. Instead, the FTC has urged for gaming companies to hold themselves accountable. It aims to provide consumers with the resources that they need in order to be aware of what they’re purchasing. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony announced recently that they will implement strict rules on loot boxes in favor of the consumer.

Video game companies, such as Electronic Arts or Blizzard, that wish to host their games through the three major gaming platforms will now have to disclose consumer odds. If they refuse, their games will not be available on the most popular consoles. These odds, called “drop rates,” aim to tell consumers how likely they are to win a digital product. Many games already disclose the drop rates for loot boxes. Consumers can expect it to be a normal occurrence by the end of 2020.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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