A recent study requested by the European Parliament’s committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection suggest that it’s up to each country of the European Union to regulate their gambling activities. A more effective approach to regulate loot-boxes should be taken from the perspective of the Consumer Protection.
The European Parlament has taken a lead role in defining and try to regulate games that feature the controversial monetization practice in their games., for that reason the practice has been scrutinized and, as expected, has been defined as a way of gambling. The study found that developers are implementing mechanics that create an “irresistible urge to play” and a “growing tension” that could only be relieved by playing.
Some gambling researchers say loot boxes are ‘virtual games of chance’ (Griffiths, 2018) or a systematic attempt to turn gamers into gamblers. Others, such as academics in IT and industry representatives suggest that they resemble ‘mystery boxes’ fo und in other consumer markets such as collectors’ card packs (e.g. sports, Pokémon, etc.), or traditional whack-a-mole games at popular fairs. At a general level, loot boxes arerandom reward mechanisms accessed through play or optionally through pay.
The new study defines the loot-boxes as: “features in video games which are usually accessed through gameplay, or which may optionally be paid for with real-world money. They are ‘mysteryboxes’ which contain randomised items, so players do not know what they will get before opening.
The mechanism of the monetization scheme is also explained theoretically and graphically:
Most commonly, players acess loot boxes through gameplay. Some game developers also insert waiting times as a way of accessing loot boxes. For instance, players may need to wait for a certain time period, until the next play session, or until a specific moment (e.g. the next day) to access a loot box. In some cases, gameplay or waiting times can be skipped if the loot box is instead paid for with real-world money, or by watching advertisements. Payment is usually an option in addition to the other pathways.
While the European Comitee has found that Loot-Boxes are in fact gambling, it’s up to each jurisdiction of European nations to legislate on their gambling activities.
In principle, the European Union’s general rules on consumer protection also apply to loot boxes … The European Union has, however, limited legislative powers in the area of gambling policy.
Even if there is slow progress in the regulation of loot-boxes, the PEGI and ESRB is now warning costumers for games with loot boxes. The ESRB has a new interactive element is called the ‘In-Game Purchases’, and it will warn parents and buyers when a game offers the ability to purchase additional items without leaving the game.
Epic Games boss, Tim Sweeney has also openly discussed about the business practice, he explains that the current trend of some developers are harming the customers, he directly points at Facebook and Google. He also raised his voice against pay-to-win games,or loot boxes.
We have to ask ourselves, as an industry, what we want to be when we grow up. Do we want to be like Las Vegas, with slot machines … or do we want to be widely respected as creators of products that customers can trust? I think we will see more and more publishers move away from loot boxes.