Loot boxes are an important source of income for video game publishers, but they’re increasingly under fire from regulators. In a joint statement released on September 17, a group of 15 European gambling commissions and one from Washington State declared their intentions to investigate “skin betting, loot boxes, social casino gaming and the use of gambling themed content within video games available to children.”
The declaration comes on the heels of the annual meeting of the Gambling Regulators European Forum, a group that gathers to discuss issues related to gambling regulation and enforcement. “We commit ourselves today to working together to thoroughly analyse the characteristics of video games and social gaming,” the declaration said. “This common action will enable an informed dialogue with the video games and social gaming industries to ensure the appropriate and efficient implementation of our national laws and regulations.”
Authorities from Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Austria, Poland, Latvia and others signed the declaration.
The joint statement comes after a bad year for loot boxes. Publisher Electronic Arts' Star Wars: Battlefront II irritated fans who felt the game was a skinner box designed to nickel-and-dime them. The controversy hit the mainstream press and government legislators began to take notice.
In April 2018, a Dutch study of the issue found that too many publishers blurred the line between gaming and gambling when it sold loot boxes. Also in April, Brussels found games such as Overwatch violated Belgian law and Blizzard stopped selling loot boxes in the country. Brussels is also currently investigating Electronic Arts Games for gambling violations related to FIFA 18.
We’re just at the start of a battle that publishers such as Electronic Arts and Blizzard will soon start fighting in European, and possibly American, courtrooms. Loot boxes may have an uncertain future, but one thing still holds true—gamers complain about them constantly, but we can’t seem to stop buying them.