AUGUST 7, 2019
US Congress started to get interested in loot boxes earlier this year, and the video game industry appears to be willing to play ball. The three major console manufacturers–Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo–today announced a plan to start requiring all games with paid loot boxes to start disclosing the odds of getting different items, following other platforms in an effort to combat claims that loot boxes function as exploitative pseudo-gambling. Video game lobbying organization The Entertainment Software Association made the announcement based at a recent FTC workshop on loot boxes.
To further that effort, several video game industry leaders are announcing new initiatives to help consumers make informed choices about their purchases, including loot boxes. The major console makers – Sony Interactive Entertainment, operator of the PlayStation platform, Microsoft, operator of Xbox and Windows, and Nintendo, operator of the Nintendo Switch gaming platform – are committing to new platform policies that will require paid loot boxes in games developed for their platforms to disclose information on the relative rarity or probability of obtaining randomized virtual items. These required disclosures will also apply to game updates, if the update adds new loot box features. The precise timing of this disclosure requirement is still being worked out, but the console makers are targeting 2020 for the implementation of the policy.
This is in likely response to a piece of legislation proposed by Republican Senator Josh Hawley that also garnered the approval of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But those within the video game industry have been criticizing loot box mechanics for years even as they became more and more ubiquitous. While a certain brand of AAA game largely backed away from loot boxes following the controversy surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2, they still remain essential to most free-to-play mobile games and EA’s sports franchises.
The ESA noted that many major publishers were also getting on board with the decision:
In addition, several of ESA’s publisher members already disclose the relative rarity or probability of obtaining in-game virtual items from purchased loot boxes, and other major publishers have agreed to do so no later than the end of 2020. Together, these publishers include Activision Blizzard, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Bethesda, Bungie, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and Wizards of the Coast. Many other ESA members are considering a disclosure. The disclosure will apply to all new games and updates to games that add such in-game purchases and will be presented in a manner that is understandable and easily accessed.
It’s a step in the right direction, and will likely inform any conversation about potential legislation. I do wonder what impact publishing the odds can have on addictive behavior, however. A roulette wheel essentially wears its odds on its face, after all, and that doesn’t stop people from gambling on it.