Microtransactions, often gussied up euphemisticically as ‘loot boxes’, have become a major source of additional revenue for video game companies. They’re a godsend for boosting profits, but peel away the Midas Touch and you’re left with humanitarian issues. Last year, lootboxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II fanned the flames of controversy due to their alleged link with gambling and the powerful psychology behind variable rewards. It’s this grey area US Senator Maggie Hassan is most troubled with.
At a recent Commerce, Science and Transportation field hearing, the New Hampshire Senator voiced her concerns with lootboxes and challenged FTC (Federal Trade Commission) nominees to recognise their exploitative nature:
“In many cases, (loot boxes) are being marketed to and used by children, who are obviously particularly susceptible to being addicted to them. Last month, the World Health Organisation recognised ‘gaming disorder’ as a recognisable disorder. We should be doing all we can to protect children, and to inform parents about their options when it comes to these types of games.”
Hassan argued that lootboxes, which may increase the likelihood of gaming addiction amongst children, are a “problem that merits our attention”. Three nominees agreed to look into the issue. In other parts of the world, the Belgian Gaming Commission is in the process of deciding whether to officially classify loot boxes as gambling, with similar strides underway in Germany. Hawaiian state lawmakers have already issued four bills that if legislated will ban the selling of loot boxes to anyone under 21.