Microtransactions and loot boxes are almost universally despised by the gaming community these days. Even so, most companies that take charge of popular multiplayer titles use them as a means of making the majority of their money. The morality and ethics behind this are choppy, especially when players run into paywalls, pay-to-win, and random-chance loot boxes, especially when all of these appear in the context of a game that already costs money. However, the days of random loot boxes may be numbered in the United States; the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has promised a thorough investigation of the practice that could potentially outlaw them from the entire industry.
The question remains: are there grounds for banning loot boxes nationally? I say, “absolutely,” but perhaps not in the way a lot of people think and perhaps not even in the way the FTC intends to investigate the situation. The argument floats around that loot boxes simply deceive the players into believing their chances of receiving something of significant value are higher than the truth. While studios and publishers certainly want you to believe that, the most this will probably advocate for are the chances being listed for each item or type of item the loot box could give you. China enacted a similar policy earlier this year which let the cats out of their bags for many games. The true way we may see a ban in the United States relates to a conversation from earlier this year involving the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
It’s said that they considered (and still are considering) microtransactions and loot boxes effectively forcing a game into a mature rating. First of all, this would make the entire industry practically only for the ages of 17 and older. I doubt this will really go through, but the same premise could be used to wipe loot boxes clean off the state. The United States has strict gambling laws that prohibit people under the age of 18 from gambling; in some parts of the country, it even reaches 21. In other parts, certain types of sports gambling are banned altogether. Loot boxes closely resemble this idea of paying money for a chance at something possibly more valuable but usually less valuable.
Loot boxes arguably expose children and teenagers to gambling earlier than U.S. law intends. The FTC could decide that the mainstream appeal of video games – especially games like Fortnite – is unstoppable and that the most effective way to keep children from loot boxes is to disallow them. However, the beforementioned consideration by the ESRB could still serve as another option.
There are also questions surrounding what the industry will do in the event that loot boxes go away. Let the speculation begin! While loot boxes certainly get into some legal issues, microtransactions are here to stay, so companies will have that to bank on. However, I could see an evolution of the loot box coming out of this. This biggest issue is within the unknown chances and how they relate to kids. It will be interesting to see how the industry handles this.
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.