Love a loot box? You better get em while you can – as the future of loot boxes might not be so bright. In fact, they might just get thrown in the trash, as US legislators propose terms that outright ban the practice of selling loot boxes to customers. What this all boils down to is a case of protecting underagers from spending a ton of money and developing addictive gambling habits. Is it really necessary? Well… we’ll let you be the judge.
Legislation on the Cards
Earlier this year Senator Josh Hawley put forward a proposed outline for The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, an act designed to protect kids from being encouraged to make in-game transactions. That’s all well and good – it makes sense that kids shouldn’t be spending their parents’ money on repetitive in-game transactions – but for those of us old enough to (hopefully) know better, and not keep on clicking that buy button, it signals trouble.
The problem that legislators see with loot box transactions in games is that they are literally gambling, an activity not available to under 21s. You pay to play, and the odds of certain items appearing in your loot box are set in advance. One you pay (or open the loot box), a random number generator is used to determine the item or items in your loot box. This is literally the same technology behind online slot machines and roulette, so, in effect, it is gambling, even though the items you receive may not have a dollar cost associated with them.
While video gaming and online gambling are entirely different industries (learn more about this topic), there can be some grey areas – like this one.
The State of Loot Boxes Overseas
Back in July in the UK, the gambling commission came out and said that loot boxes are not considered gambling under UK law, specifically because there was no assigned monetary value of the mystery items. This is regardless of the fact that in-game items can often be resold to other players in MMORPGs. In Belgium and the Netherlands, however, there is a total ban on loot boxes in games – you simply can’t get them. The online gaming rules in each of these two countries are fairly strict which gives somewhat of an insight into why loot boxes are banned over there.
So we have a few different situations going on around the world in terms of loot boxes. If they’re bad for kids are they bad for you too?
As any smoker will attest to, they regret ever picking up smoking. If you wind up developing an addiction to loot boxes, apparently a form of gambling, then you’ll say the same thing. “Why did I waste all this time and money on this! And how do I escape the habit?!” Thankfully, if you’re picking up loot box after loot box it’s not going to damage your health like sucking down cigarette after cigarette – but there may still be negative effects, both to your bank balance and to your brain.
We protect children for a reason, because these things can be dangerous. However, in reality, loot boxes are not hard drugs – which actually have the potential to kill you – it’s just something that can be habit forming in a negative way. Do they really need stamping out altogether, or can we just put child blocks in place?
Hawley, in the outlined act says that isn’t enough, that any games that have loot boxes that are even somewhat marketed towards minors (or where game makers knew minors were playing the games) would be banned.
Let’s face it; this covers pretty much any game. While games aren’t necessarily aimed at kids, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to play them. We all wanted to grow up faster and do the cool stuff adults did, right?
Looking to the Future
Sure, game makers are trying to get more cash from us any which way they can – well, some of them, anyway. But if certain rules come into effect, or even get laid out on the table with some support, and they have 100s of other ways to make money… well, it’s likely they’ll just take loot boxes away quietly as some games and companies already have. It’s simply not worth the hassle to them. What does it all mean to you? Well, if you’re a lover of loot boxes then you better keep grabbing them while you can. If you think you’re mildly addicted to them already (and you’re annoyed at them in general) then you may be in luck. However, the situation unfolds, there are sure to be new and innovative revenue-making exercises from games houses in the future, so we’ll just have to wait and see what’s around the corner.