Jen MacLean, executive director of the IGDA, has issued an industry-wide call-to-action in response to the United States Federal Trade Commission’s recent announcement it was launching an investigation into loot box monetization.
While loot crates and microtransactions have been an industry staple for a number of years now, the loot mechanics in games like Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Overwatch has drawn the attention of gambling regulators. Many countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have already taken action in relation to gambling laws, but now the United States Federal Trade Commission has indicated it will be specifically investigating how loot boxes impact children. MacLean opines that given the industry’s prior willingness to work together to create game ratings and content descriptions, there should be appetite to take action "as a community" before legislators "take that action for us".
"Random loot drops are a well-established game mechanic, and a way to vary rewards and keep players interested and engaged," MacLean’s blog states. "But when a player makes a real-money purchase of an unknown item-a loot box-we run the risk of triggering gambling laws. Those regulations are not always clear, and many people have noted that loot boxes are simply digital versions of collectible card games, but we cannot ignore the fact that video games face increased scrutiny, concern, and regulation because of their immersive nature."
MacLean goes on to recommend the industry takes steps to "affirm an industry commitment to not market loot boxes to children", "clearly disclose the odds of different rewards when purchasing loot boxes", and "launch a coordinated education campaign that boosts awareness of the parental controls that are available to appropriately limit how players engage with games".
"By not taking significant action as an industry and global game developer community to self-regulate how loot boxes are used, we run the very real risk that governments around the world will take that action for us, and perhaps create significantly restrictive laws that could impact any random reward elements in games," concludes MacLean. "I offer my strongest advice to game developers and interactive entertainment businesses on this matter: addressing how loot boxes are used is both the right thing, and the smart thing, for the global game development industry to do."