FTC says it will in­ves­ti­gate video game loot boxes

Crit­ics com­pare growing trend to gambling

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - The Digital Life - By Brian Fung The Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON – Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have vowed to in­ves­ti­gate a growing trend in video games that an­a­lysts say could soon be­come a $50 bil­lion in­dus­try but which has drawn fire from crit­ics who com­pare the prac­tice to gambling.

Se­nior of­fi­cials at the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion, Amer­ica’s top con­sumer watchdog, said Tues­day that they will look more closely at loot boxes — the bun­dles of dig­i­tal goods of­fered to play­ers, of­ten for a fee, that con­tain ran­dom as­sort­ments of in-game cloth­ing, abil­i­ties or other re­wards.

Asked by Sen. Mag­gie Has­san, D-N.H., to probe the is­sue at an agency over­sight hear­ing, FTC Chair­man Joseph Si­mons said he would com­mit to launch­ing a probe. The four other com­mis­sion­ers who tes­ti­fied also in­di­cated their sup­port.

Has­san said she was concerned that loot boxes have be­come en­demic in the gam­ing in­dus­try and that by en­tic­ing play­ers to spend ever in­creas­ing amounts of money rolling for ran­dom loot the prac­tice showed a “close link to gambling.”

“Chil­dren may be par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to en­gag­ing with th­ese ingame pur­chases, which are of­ten con­sid­ered in­te­gral com­po­nents of video games,” said Has­san.

The list of games con­tain­ing loot boxes has grown in re­cent months and in­cludes pop­u­lar ti­tles, such as “Fort­nite,” “Play­erUn­known’s Bat­tle­grounds” and “FIFA 18.”

The FTC’s loom­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes as pol­i­cy­mak­ers around the world crack down on loot boxes. In April, Bel­gian gambling of­fi­cials said pub­lish­ers must re­move loot boxes from their games or risk fac­ing crim­i­nal penal­ties, such as fines of more than $900,000 and pos­si­ble prison time. In re­sponse, game mak­ers such as Square Enix have pulled a num­ber of their games from the Bel­gian market. Other coun­tries, such as Ja­pan and China, have also moved to block loot boxes. And Aus­tralian law­mak­ers held a se­ries of hear­ings on the is­sue this year, cul­mi­nat­ing in a re­port to the Aus­tralian Se­nate find­ing that loot boxes risk ex­ac­er­bat­ing “gambling dis­or­ders” among some play­ers.

Video game mak­ers have de­fended loot boxes as a way to pro­vide ad­di­tional, op­tional con­tent to play­ers af­ter a game has been pub­lished. But many con­sumers have ob­jected to loot boxes as an ex­ploita­tive mon­e­ti­za­tion tool. Last year, gamers re­volted when Elec­tronic Arts an­nounced that the hotly an­tic­i­pated ti­tle “Star Wars: Bat­tle­front II” would in­clude loot boxes. One cus­tomer took to Red­dit, com­plain­ing that it was un­fair for EA to have charged $80 for the game, only to ask play­ers to pay more to ac­cess one of the se­ries’ most iconic playable char­ac­ters, Darth Vader.

EA’s re­sponse to the Red­di­tor — that the de­ci­sion was aimed at pro­vid­ing play­ers “with a sense of pride and ac­com­plish­ment for un­lock­ing dif­fer­ent he­roes” — quickly be­came the most down­voted com­ment in Red­dit his­tory.

The game in­dus­try’s trade group in Wash­ing­ton, the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware As­so­ci­a­tion (ESA), said Tues­day that loot boxes can en­hance play­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Con­trary to as­ser­tions, loot boxes are not gambling,” the as­so­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment. “They have no real-world value, play­ers al­ways re­ceive some­thing that en­hances their ex­pe­ri­ence, and they are en­tirely op­tional to pur­chase..They can en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence for those who choose to use them, but have no im­pact on those who do not.”

Games that are rated by the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware Rat­ing Board now carry la­bels in­di­cat­ing to par­ents whether a prod­uct of­fers loot boxes. The ESRB is a self-reg­u­la­tory body that was cre­ated by ESA in 1994.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.