People have strong feelings about the increasing number of full-priced games containing loot boxes.Things reached a tipping point with Star Wars Battlefront 2's much-hated system, but it looks as if the player backlash is having an effect, with both Belgium and Hawaii fighting back against the practice while urging other countries and states to do the same.
Following a recent investigation, the Belgian Gaming Commission has just ruled that the loot box system constitutes a form of gambling. According to VTM Nieuws, the Commission concluded that the “mixing of money and addiction” makes it little different from slot machines.
"Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child,” said Belgium's Minister of Justice, Koen Geens. He is calling for an outright ban on those in-game purchases where you don’t know what you’re specifically buying, adding that Belgium would have to “go to Europe” for the process of banning the system.
Over in Hawaii, Rep. Chris Lee (D) has announced that the state will be taking action to address this “predatory behavior.”
“This game [Star Wars Battlefront 2] is a Star Wars-themed online casino,” said Lee, before repeating Admiral Ackbar’s famous line: “It’s a trap.”
Explaing his statement on Reddit, Lee writes: "These kinds of loot boxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all."
Lee proposes introducing legislation prohibiting the sale of games featuring loot boxes to minors, while “prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms” within games. He has also “been in discussions with our counterparts in a number of other states who are also considering how to address this issue. Change is difficult at the federal level, but states can and are taking action.”
Some argue that loot boxes can’t be considered gambling because you’re always guaranteed to get something, but seeing as the 'prizes' include unimpressive emotes and victory poses, many people keep handing over cash in the hope of winning something better, making the gambling comparison seem pretty apt.
Yesterday, a financial analyst called the loot box controversy an “overreaction” by the media and players, adding that gamers should be paying more for these titles.
How much of an effect the actions of Belgium and Hawaii have on loot box systems remains to be seen, but it could be an important first step in implementing an industry-wide change.