Loot Box Regulations are coming

It’s been a long time coming but random loot box mechanics in video games are finally put under the chopping block of state regulation. Considering that lottery systems in online games have only really been popularized in the western market since Farmville, it’s taken the public eye seven years to become aware of this ongoing and ever increasing phenomenon. PC Gamer recently published an interesting rundown of the history of loot boxes, detailing how we got to the place we are in.

loot box regulations

I guess it’s that one time gamers can thank EA for the stupidity that was the Starwars Battlefront 2 controversy in 2017. Shortly after EA published their plans for the game, public outcry reached the upper levels of legislators in various countries such as Belgium which started to seriously investigate the gambling aspects of loot boxes in video games. And now official Hawaii state legislation has moved forward to issue several bills that will put severe limitations on publishers –

One pair of bills, House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024, would prohibit the sale of any game featuring a system wherein players can purchase a randomized reward using real money to anyone younger than 21 years old.

The other two bills, House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025, would require video game publishers to prominently label games containing such randomized purchase systems, as well as disclose the probability rates of receiving each loot box reward.

It can be expected that Hawaii is setting the milestone many more western countries are about to follow. It will be interesting to see how different publishers deal with the newly imposed regulations and what it will mean for titles like Blizzard’s Overwatch, which has been successfully using loopholes wherever possible to circumvent stricter gambling regulations in for example China.

As someone who detests Overwatch’s random and skewed loot box system and has always drawn her arguably generous line at in-game lottery items, I welcome this change. There’s no reason why casinos should undergo different scrutiny than random loot boxes, which possibly also employ shady algorithms to screw players over.

It will be very interesting to see how and if players, who tend to buy into loot boxes, get deterred once probability rates are disclosed. I am also suspecting a new generation of random loot mechanics will soon replace the current ilk – but for a time, we may find ourselves in more agreeable waters.

8 comments

  1. Hawaii… yeah… that is some tail wagging the dog legislation there. That makes Belgium trying to regulate the EU seem viable. The bills are unlikely to pass (something as trivial as suggesting that tourists might not like it will kill it) and since the place is nice and remote, easy to geo-lock and keep the other 99.6% of the US population untouched. And even if it does pass it is likely to end up in court on the constitutional issue of regulating interstate commerce, something reserved to the federal government.

    1. Yeah, I found it surprising it would be Hawaii but I don’t know enough about what goes on there. The US will be a different matter, as you say but the EU is very likely to do something about it soon.

      So many different legislations across the globe will make it really tough to make loot boxes part of any title’s core payment plan. Makes you wonder if they’ll start setting up more regional business schemes or start excluding certain regions altogether. But then, you don’t wanna lose markets like the EU or China either (see how many times Blizzard has gone custom when it came to the latter market). It gets…complicated.

  2. I think there’s a very big baby about to be thrown out with a bathful of water here. I love lootboxes – the ones I don’t have to pay for. At the moment the Lunar New Year festival is on and the highlight of my gaming day every day is collecting the 16 Lucky Envelopes I can buy on each account and having one character open all 48.

    I would always rather have a box with unknown contents that I can open for a surprise than a thing I can buy as if I was in a shop. I don’t play MMOs to go virtual shopping – I play to adventure and explore and be surprised and amused. Opening boxes whose contents vary and are unpredictable is fun. Buying stuff isn’t.

    I suspect that, should any of this legislation pass, it will not be written with sufficient precision to catch the gambling for real money while allowing the bran tub party games for imaginary money or no money to continue. Games will become blander and thinner and come to resemble shopping more than they already do. That’s not an improvement in my book.

    1. I hear ya on surprise rewards, don’t think this issue is pertaining to any type of free loot systems however. free loot is well, free. It’s likely though that politics around here will start regulating paid for lootboxes, especially when it comes to selling them to minors and without declaring any odds. Are you opposed to that?

      Obviously there’s always a way to get around laws, but it would definitely make a lot of publishers think twice about how they set things up, especially when it comes to family friendly titles. Personally, I’ve never spent a dime on lottery items in games but I also don’t think they add anything to them, let alone would I want to see more and more games relying exclusively on random, paid for loot as a business model.

  3. I wish this weren’t the case, but the profit on loot boxes is simply too large for any restrictions to stand.

    And to be honest, loot boxes or other microtransactions keep some games –such as Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, or LOTRO– afloat. If I were a lobbyist for the games industry, I’d exploit that angle as “the big bad government coming down hard on the small, scrappy developer who wants to build a successful business”.

    1. True true, but then the law is specifically targeting lottery systems, not RMT per se. There will always be ingame markets but when publishers are basically scamming customers or deceiving them, or in this case entering casino waters, there should be a good chance for regulation there. Also because we already have that for all other businesses; I believe for gaming legislation just hasn’t caught up yet. Am fairly certain something will happen in the EU sooner or later, the US is more special when it comes to consumer protection…..

  4. Cheers for the link! That is a justified concern, it’s often the case such laws do either too much or too little, especially when it comes to subjects they don’t fully understand. Regulations that stifle game development and publishers completely or worse, let’s say criminalise end users, would leave everyone off a lot worse. I’m no fan of over-regulating things personally, especially not over exceptions, but the same minimum requirements should exist for games as for other businesses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *