As the discussion surrounding loot boxes in games heats up, more and more governments and organizations are joining the conversation. Those conversations have finally started turning from talk into action.The ESRB finally acknowledged the problem and committed to adding messaging to any games that contained in-game purchases (however, we wrote about why it’s not nearly enough). Hawaii introduced legislation that would place age restrictions on purchases of games with loot box mechanics and mandate messaging on those same games.
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner recently added an “Online Gambling” section to their parental guidance that has very specific references to loot boxes in games.
Some online games include activities and features that are normally associated with gambling—like ‘loot’ boxes, ‘bundles’, ‘crates’ and ‘cases’ that provide a random chance to win virtual items, which can include an in-game currency.
Many games operate on a ‘freemium’ model. Your child can access the basic game for free, but might need to purchase credits, keys or in-game items for additional content or to access special features, including the chance to win items in a loot box or crate. These items can also be acquired randomly, as a reward through gameplay, or exchanged between players.
In-game items can include an in-game currency, equipment, tools, weapons or ‘skins’. Skins are used in some of the most popular games to cosmetically alter a player’s weapon, equipment or avatar and can vary in their value depending on how rare and popular they are.
Statements on the site do talk about gambling being the opportunity to win real money, and calls out games that allow players to resell loot box contents on third party sites. Most every console game doesn’t fall into the category, with only specific PC games allowing this ability to make actual money on loot box purchases. The guidance seems to overstate the problem, lumping all games with loot boxes in without specifically naming or differentiating ones that have no possibility of monetary return.
The idea they are trying to get across is that gambling mechanics in video games can ultimately lead into gambling behaviors later in life. “Games that simulate a gambling activity are easily accessible through mobile apps and social media sites and can expose your child to a realistic gambling experience at a very young age.”
It appears that the conversation and actions surrounding loot boxes in games and how they fit into the gambling restrictions, guidelines, and laws is far from over. 2018 will continue to be a big year for loot boxes and microtransactions in games, in addition to the conversation about video games and their connection to violent behavior.