The US Federal Trade Commission will investigate loot boxes

US FTC commits to investigating loot boxes in video games By Keshav Bhat

US FTC commits to investigating loot boxes in video games By Keshav Bhat

The Federal Trade Commission will investigate the potential "negative impacts" that video game loot boxes may have on children.

Per Polygon, Junior New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan questioned commissioners at the FTC during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing about loot boxes, as well as other pressing topics. It makes sense-the only difference between loot boxes and typical gambling is that the former's prizes are in-game items rather than real money. Referencing a Juniper Research report from earlier this year, Hassan says loot boxes will be a $50 billion industry by 2022.

Hassan's $50 billion quote is from a 2018 study from United Kingdom -based research agency Juniper Report. Simmons said that he and the FTC were concerned about this potentially manipulative practices and that they would be "undertaking this project and keeping the committee informed about it". In it, the trade group tries to beat down the insinuation left in the hearing that loot boxes represent a form of gambling, which of course would need to be strictly regulated: "Loot boxes are one way that players can enhance the experience that video games offer". While it's hard to imagine many gamers objecting to the FTC looking into the problem with loot boxes, we can probably expect publishers to push back against this investigation.

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The committee recommends that the Australian Government undertake a comprehensive review of loot boxes in video games.

The U.S.is actually coming late to the loot box regulation party. Specifically, we discussed loot boxes, which allow in-game purchases with real currency for surprise winnings, and most of you agreed that this is an area that could use additional oversight by the FTC. Hassan, as well as Hawaii Representative Chris Lee and Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker, called for action in this arena earlier this year, and Hassan in particular wrote to the ESRB regarding the matter. It all started toward the end of 2017, when EA's heavy-handed loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 caused a ton of controversy and eventually forced EA to backtrack. In recent days, for example, Square Enix had to remove three of its games from digital channels in Belgium, which the company later confirmed was related to the country's rules around loot boxes.

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