A hot potato: Ask one of your gaming friends what they think about loot boxes, and you'll probably set off a 15-minute rant about how they are the downfall of games. Regulators have expressed a disdain for the monetization method, saying it's predatory against children and labeling it 'gambling' in some regions. And yet, despite all that, video game studios make billions of dollars per year using these gacha-like mechanics.

The Norwegian Consumer Council (Forbrukerrådet) issued a report this week concluding that loot-box mechanics in games are predatory and exploit consumers. It claims that these monetization platforms use techniques to deceive and manipulate the consumer into spending "(a lot)" of money with no guarantee of a product of comparable value. The report has prompted consumer watchdogs in 18 other countries to call for stricter regulation of games employing loot boxes.

The Forbrukerrådet used FIFA 22 and Raid: Shadow Legends as two examples of how this monetization method is abusive to players.

"Both games employ a wide arsenal of tricks to push consumers into spending as much time and money as possible exploiting consumers hope to receive the reward despite a miniscule chance and likelihood to do so [sic]," concludes the executive summary.

The Council discusses several methods these games use to entice players to spend money on in-game currency, which rarely has an easily convertible monetary value. They also employ tactics such as having time-limited sales on valuable boxes with better chances of getting a highly desired item. The time limit creates a sense of urgency and "triggers a fear of missing out" within players, causing them to make impulsive purchases.

The Forbrukerrådet suggests that regulators need to institute limitations on how game publishers use loot boxes. Some ideas presented include:

  • Banning deceptive game designs that exploit players
  • Listing microtransaction prices in real-world currency
  • Banning loot boxes in any game "likely" to be played by minors
  • More transparency as to how loot boxes are programmed to ensure fairness
  • Better and more enforcement by regulators

Despite being one of the largest entertainment industries, the Council points out that video game developers have "often eluded serious regulatory oversight." If the suggested actions don't work, the Forbrukerrådet recommends that regulators consider a complete ban on paid loot boxes.

However, as Blizzard has recently shown with Diablo Immortal, studios would prefer to pull their game from regions that ban the mechanic than to take it out entirely. This attitude leaves any enacted regulations virtually toothless where enforcement is concerned.

Image credit: SolarSeven