Lawmakers in Hawaii’s state legislature and the Belgian government have both indicated a desire to investigate and regulate loot crates and in-game transactions in video gaming, if not ban the practice outright as illegal gambling.
In Hawaii yesterday, Reps. Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan held a news conference that assailed loot crates as preying on children, naming Star Wars Battlefront 2 specifically. The game launched on Friday, and a day before publisher Electronic Arts suspended in-game transactions in light of the controversy surrounding loot crate systems.
And in Belgium, the country’s Gaming Commission last week opened an investigation into loot box purchases in video games. Now, as reported by VTM News of Belgium (via PCGamer) the nation’s minister of justice has signaled he wants to go to the European Union to have action taken against games that employ loot crates and in-game purchases.
Loot crates or boxes are not necessarily a new phenomenon — Quinlan, the Hawaii legislator, noted they had largely been the province of mobile gaming.
But beginning with Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s launch in October, loot crates have become a top-of-mind controversy among the gaming public. Electronic Arts has used them in two recent releases, Battlefront 2 and Need For Speed Payback. Loot crates are also part of Call of Duty: WWII, though real-money transactions to acquire them were delayed almost three weeks past the game’s Nov. 3 launch.
“Now it’s moved into the main event,” Quinlan said of loot crates. “[Star Wars Battlefront 2] is a triple-A title that’s being released by the world’s largest gaming studio and it has the most popular intellectual property attached to it, and it’s marketed directly at children.”
Lee called it “a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money.
“It’s a trap,” he added.
It is, however, not possible to buy loot crates for real money in Star Wars Battlefront 2 at the moment. Electronic Arts suspended in-game transactions for the game one day before its full launch on Nov. 17. The head of the studio that made Battlefront 2 said in-game purchases for real money would return later.
Lee said he and his colleagues in the Hawaii State Legislature have been in contact with lawmakers in other states over the issue. “I think this is an appropriate time to make sure these issues are addressed before this becomes the new norm for every game,” he said.
Polygon reached out to an Electronic Arts representative at EA’s headquarters in Redwood Shores for a comment on the government actions and criticisms of Battlefront 2. The representative said that EA had confirmed that Belgium’s gambling commission had not made any ruling on the loot crate practice. As for the comments of the Hawaii lawmakers, EA declined to respond.
As Rep. Lee and Quinlan’s remarks would involve regulating the sale of video games, Polygon has also reached out to a representative of the Entertainment Software Association, whose Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings voluntarily bind retailers not to sell certain games to minors. This story will be updated with any reply the ESA makes.
Though it is currently not possible to spend real money on in-game transactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2, the practice was available through a week-long preview to players on Windows PC and Xbox One through the Origin and EA Access programs. Loot crates have drawn widespread criticism from players and the games press, and were a large component of the disappointing review scores Battlefront 2 has so far earned.
The controversy was enough to attract the notice of mainstream news media and investment analysts. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Disney’s chairman of interactive media, Jimmy Pitaro, contacted Electronic Arts chief executive Andrew Wilson about the matter, insinuating that Disney stepped in to put a stop to in-game purchases on a game launching a month before Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Update: The Entertainment Software Association says loot boxes are not gambling, per a statement the ESA provided to Polygon this afternoon. The ESA noted the dual functions of loot boxes in the games cited above: that some are earned for free and some are purchased; and that loot boxes can either aid with player progression or provide optional content, or both.
The full statement from the ESA is below.
Loot boxes are a voluntary feature in certain video games that provide players with another way to obtain virtual items that can be used to enhance their in-game experiences. They are not gambling. Depending on the game design, some loot boxes are earned and others can be purchased. In some games, they have elements that help a player progress through the video game. In others, they are optional features and are not required to progress or succeed in the game. In both cases, the gamer makes the decision.