Loot boxes to be investigated by US Federal Trade Commission
It’s been just over a year since the furore over Star Wars Battlefront 2’s loot boxes began, and in that time, gambling regulators have started paying more attention to the controversial microtransactions. The latest government to get involved is a big’un, as the United States Federal Trade Commission has indicated it will investigate loot boxes and how they impact children. Oh – and the Australian Senate has something to say on the topic too.
FTC Chairman Joseph Simons yesterday affirmed a request by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) that the agency investigate loot boxes in video games (via Polygon). During the hearing, Hassan pointed out that “loot boxes are now endemic in the video game industry and are present in everything from casual smart phone games to the newest, high budget releases,” and will likely “represent a $50 billion industry by the year 2022”.
Although Washington State was one of the signatories to the recent international declaration to tackle the risks posed by loot boxes (along with 15 European state regulators), this appears to be the first time they will be investigated at a federal level in the US. As an independent agency of the US government, the FTC is responsible for consumer protection, and both enforces and promotes awareness of business regulation statutes. Judging by Hassan’s remarks, it sounds like the purpose of the investigation will be to further understand the risks posed by loot boxes, and raise awareness by “educat[ing] parents about potential addiction and other negative impacts”. The FTC will report its findings back to Congress, and we’ll probably have to wait a little while before we hear back.
Earlier this year, Hassan also sent a letter to the ESRB (the body responsible for rating games in America) requesting the organisation review its ratings process for loot boxes. Hassan was also successful on this front, as the ESRB subsequently agreed to add warning labels to games containing loot boxes. The lady sure knows how to get things done.
On the other side of the world, the Australian Senate has finally concluded its investigation into loot boxes, and recommended – well, further research. Its report states it is still too early to propose specific regulations, but argues greater clarification is needed from Australian Government regulators to cover any legal loopholes. Specifically, this should come in the form of a review by the Australian Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts in conjunction with a number of regulatory bodies.
Although there’s nothing solid yet from the US and Australia, and both are still a long way away from declaring loot boxes totally illegal (like Belgium and the Netherlands), the announcements do reveal increased government-level interest in regulating loot boxes. With so many regulatory bodies now interested, we’re likely to hear further developments in the months to come.