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U.S. Senator Targets Video Game Loot Boxes

loot box, Riot Games
an in-game loot box - Riot Games

Loot Box Legal Trouble

Gamers aren’t the only people upset with loot boxes. Senator Maggie Hassan has a bone to pick with the system. Sen. Hassan has pressed for more government oversight on the loot box mechanic. In a letter written to the president of the ESRB, Patricia Vance, Hassan calls for the presence of loot boxes to be indicated on the warning label. She also discussed the issue with four FTC nominees, citing research that shows how loot boxes encourage gambling addiction. All four members agreed they would be willing to follow up on the issue. 

Sen. Hassan and Rep. Lee against loot boxes in video games
L-R Sen. Hassan (D, NH) Rep. Lee (D, HI)

The often called “predatory” nature of microtransactions has come under intense fire after the Star Wars Battlefront II debacle. Yet even before then, governments from around the world had taken an interest in loot boxes. For example, Belgium’s Gambling Committee has agreed that loot boxes are indeed a form of gambling, thus deserve a ban. An investigation on the monetization scheme continues, however, as representatives from EA insist on the legality of loot boxes.

In Hawaii, lawmakers have prepared bills that prevent the sale of video games with loot box mechanics to anyone under the age of 21. In a statement regarding the proposed legislation, Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu said, “I grew up playing games my whole life…I’ve watched firsthand the evolution of the industry from one that seeks to create new things to one that’s begun to exploit people, especially children, to maximize profit.” Consequently, with the proliferation of loot box systems in games that children can access, scrutiny from the government follows. 

How Loot Boxes Form Addictions

To understand how loot boxes can form addictions, one must understand how gambling addiction forms. Gambling addiction relies on a person’s desire for rewards. By dishing out rewards in a semi-predictable pattern, the game conditions a person to keep gambling. If they know that out of ten times, a slot machine will roll out cash once, their brain will seek the reward. Loot boxes work under similar circumstances. The player does not know what the box contains, only that a reward will come eventually. However, if an option presents itself that allows instantaneous rewards, the brain automatically takes the quicker option. Combined with the unknown nature of the reward, this has an adverse psychological effect on children and adults.

Researchers have found multiple studies that indicate the addictive nature of loot boxes. Emil Hodzic, a psychologist who runs the Video Game Addiction Center, explained,”They have an algorithm, a formula for the release of a drop for certain items equivalent to winning a jackpot or lower grade winnings…The one with the most random results creates the strongest addiction.” EA’s and other publishers’ defense of loot boxes argue that loot boxes always give players a concrete reward. Unlike slot machines, loot boxes always contain a reward for the player to receive, which therefore cannot be defined as gambling. This explanation ignores the fact that players are gambling on the box containing an item they 1) don’t already own and 2) actually want. The chances of getting better rewards compels players to keep spending money, which by definition is gambling. 

Betting Against the Odds

We mentioned previously how microtransactions have flooded every aspect of video games. In order to have our displeasure heard, we had to shout. Now it seems that the right people are finally taking notice. Nobody wants to have their achievements amount to nothing in the face of money. Video games used to celebrate creativity and ingenuity. Nowadays, people see them as tools for gambling and violence. Companies need to change.  They can’t keep nickel-and-diming the player at every cutscene. Whether as a testament to public outcry or not, we gamers have a chance to make our government do something. Just make sure they don’t do the wrong things.


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About the author

Danielle Gary

Dani is weird, and she knows it. A writer who dislikes reading, Dani nonetheless aspires to be an author of fantasy novels, children's books, and the occasional Harlequin romance. She hails from the Bronx and graduated from UNCW. Now she spends her time gaming and writing; two things she hopes to make money doing someday.

1 Comment

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  • I’m glad loot boxes are finally get the proper attention by world legislators that they deserve due to how many innocent youths end up forming addictions and spending untold amounts of money. Gambling addiction is a serious problem and gaming should be only used for entertainment purposes and not exploitation, thank you for the very well done article.

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