Although there has still not been a winner declared in loot box gambling debate, the video game industry is giving in to pressure from lawmakers and is going to essentially declare that yes, loot boxes are gambling. The idea of requiring video games to carry loot box odds is an attempt to keep regulators at bay and not given them enough control to the point that they would force more rules on the video gaming industry.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a panel on the subject recently in the nation’s capital, where the announcement about the changes was made. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) also wrote about it in a press release, saying that it was in the best interest of consumers. It explained, “Last year, in response to growing concerns about in-game spending, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) expanded its ratings disclosures to include an ‘In-Game Purchases’ label on packaging for video games that offer the ability to purchase additional in-game content… To further that effort, several video game industry leaders are announcing new initiatives to help consumers make informed choices about their purchases, including loot boxes. The major console makers – Sony Interactive Entertainment, operator of the PlayStation platform, Microsoft, operator of Xbox and Windows, and Nintendo, operator of the Nintendo Switch gaming platform – are committing to new platform policies that will require paid loot boxes in games developed for their platforms to disclose information on the relative rarity or probability of obtaining randomized virtual items.”
The debate centers on what gambling actually means. There are as many opinions as there are days of the year. Generally speaking, gambling is considered giving money or something of value in return for the chance to win a prize. The key term is “chance,” because gambling doesn’t always result in a prize being awarded – slot machines are a good example.
However, with loot boxes, the player always, without exception, receives a prize for the purchase. The value of the prize may change – it could be a new character “skin” or it could be a rare weapon, but there is always a reward.
Different countries have different views on whether or not loot boxes are a form of gambling – France and the U.K. say no, Belgium and Australia say yes, and the U.S. is still on the fence. The result is a frustrated video game industry trying to appeal to a large international market while following different laws. Some, such as Rocket League, have given up completely and have decided to do away with loot boxes altogether, while others, including EA Games had fought hard to keep them going. It appears now that the anti-gambling sympathizers are winning.