The Federal Trade Commission is investigating loot boxes after an official request to do so was made by Senator Maggie Hassan.
The request was affirmed by FTC chairman Joe Simons during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing which was mainly based on data privacy issues, but which touched on other subjects including video games and loot boxes. Senator Hassan said that loot boxes, which represent "a close link" to gambling, are now endemic in the video game industry and will represent a $50 billion industry by 2022. Hassan further pointed to moves made in recent times by countries like Japan and Belgium to legislate the use of video game loot boxes more closely. The FTC should investigate loot boxes, argues Hassan, to educate parents about the potential dangers of these systems, as well as to ensure children are adequately protected.
Senator Hassan's request comes as loot boxes are being more closely investigated by many authorities around the world. A report commissioned by the Australian government has recommended a "comprehensive review" of loot boxes, while countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have seen investigations being carried out into loot box practices by publishers as large-scale as Activision Blizzard and EA. This isn't the first time Senator Hassan has raised this subject, either; in February this year, following Hawaiian proposals to regulate loot box systems in video games, Hassan wrote to the ESRB to request an examination of loot box practices. Following this request, the ESRB added an "in-game purchases" label to games which allow players to purchase loot boxes for real-world currency.
In response to a request for comment from Polygon, the Entertainment Software Association - the US association representing video game publishers on a governmental level - refuted the notion that loot boxes constitute gambling. The ESA claims loot boxes have no real-world value, are entirely optional, and are not detrimental to the experiences of those who don't choose to use them.
It's tough to argue that loot boxes don't impact the experiences of those who don't buy them in at least some games, especially in the wake of the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy. There are also many games which allow users to sell loot crates or their contents to one another via the Steam Community Market such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, and many others, which makes the "no real-world value" argument somewhat flawed.
How do you feel about the FTC's investigation into loot box practices? Let us know in the comments below!