FTC pledges loot crate investigation

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The Federal Trade Commission today agreed to investigate video game loot boxes, following an official request by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

In a Congressional oversight committee hearing earlier today, FTC chairman Joe Simons affirmed Sen. Hassan’s request that loot boxes be investigated. The exchange took place in a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing that was mainly focused on data privacy issues, but which ranged into other territories.

“Loot boxes are now endemic in the video game industry and are present in everything from casual smart phone games to the newest, high budget releases,” said Hassan, adding that loot boxes will “represent a $50 billion industry by the year 2022,” likely referring to a report earlier this year from Juniper Research.

Games publishers often include loot boxes in their games, which offer in-game boosts and prizes, sometimes at a cost. The practice has flourished in recent years, particularly following enormous success in games like the FIFA series, but it has also been met with consumer resistance in the past year. In 2017, Electronic Arts retooled Star Wars Battlefront 2 following accusations that the game was designed around extracting cash from players through loot crates.

Hassan warned that children are particularly susceptible to loot boxes, and that they represent a “close link” to gambling. She pointed to moves in other countries, including Japan, the Netherlands and Belgium, to bring in legislation to control the use of video game loot boxes. Last year, Reps. Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan held a news conference in Hawaii that assailed loot crates for preying on children.

Earlier this year, Senator Hassan wrote to the Entertainment Software Rating Board to ask how games with loot boxes are rated. The ESRB later added an “in-game purchases” label to games that include loot crates.

“It’s time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms to ensure that children are being adequately protected,” said Hassan. “And to educate parents about potential addiction and other negative impacts of these games. She asked Simons if the FTC will investigate further and “report back.” Simons offered a simple “yes”.

Polygon has requested comment from the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the government-level interests of games publishers.

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