Viewpoint – Loot boxes encourage gambling behaviors

By JW McNay/campus editor

People who pay for extra video game content are not guaranteed the content of their choice, and the unpredictability makes the purchase too much like gambling.

The question centers on features such as virtual “loot boxes,” which are available for purchase in many games. Each virtual box contains randomized “rewards,” such as costumes for the in-game characters.

But the buyers don’t know exactly what they will receive until after opening the box. The transaction may not provide any of the “rewards” a user hoped to purchase.

The sale of loot boxes doesn’t appear to be regulated in the U.S., and there should be consumer protections.

Individuals should spend their money as they choose, but they should also be afforded certain guarantees. Regulations on loot boxes should be put in place to require companies to be more transparent to protect consumers.

Loot boxes are not new to the video game industry. Public awareness of the practice increased in November 2017 when Star Wars Battlefront II was released. Game publisher Electronic Arts removed the ability to purchase loot boxes due to public backlash.

The attention raised questions about whether or not children are being exploited by loot boxes since there are many young Star Wars fans.

Lawmakers in the U.S. have started to take notice. Hawaii proposed measures that would disclose odds on loot boxes, add an age requirement of 21 to purchase loot-box games and require labeling to notify buyers when the game contains loot boxes. Those measures haven’t succeeded, but it’s good that policymakers are exploring reforms.

Disclosing odds is a necessary step toward transparency. The current lack of information leaves U.S. consumers in the dark about whether their odds are fair or consistent.

The availability of disclosed odds won’t guarantee a change in consumer behavior. But it could change the behavior of video game companies.

Transparency allows consumers the opportunity to be more informed and companies to be held more accountable. The goal is to ensure the consumer is not exploited.

These steps are necessary as consumer protection should never be left to chance.