Three game companies, including free-to-play giant Nexon, have been penalised by South Korea's Fair Trade Commission over the use of loot boxes. Nexon, NextFloor and Netmarble have been fined a total of around $1m over deceptive in-game item sales, including randomized loot boxes. Nexon suffers the brunt of that figure, with its share coming in at $875,000.
In Nexon's case, the FTC's move was prompted by a recent Sudden Attack event called Celebrity Count, which featured loot boxes worth 900 won each (around 85 cents) containing items of random value. Crucially, every purchased loot box during the event came with two puzzle pieces. When all 16 puzzle pieces were collected, certain in-game benefits would be granted.
According to a report in Korea Herald, the 16 pieces were believed to be rewarded at random (meaning double ups could occur), and yet, some pieces were so rare that their chances of appearing were as little as 0.5 percent. According to the FTC, one customer spent 460,000 won (around $430) in their attempts to secure each piece. The FTC believes Nexon didn't adequately indicate the odds of receiving these puzzle pieces, but Nexon claims this is a misunderstanding.
"In our puzzle event, we used the phrase ‘random provision’ to suggest the items would be provided at random, and that the odds of obtaining each puzzle piece were different," the statement from Nexon Korea read. "However, the FTC interpreted the phrase as suggesting equal odds. We plan to work on obtaining an additional review of this issue in the future."
Player disenchantment with loot boxes reached a head late last year with Star Wars: Battlefront 2, but according to a GDC 2018 survey conducted earlier this year, the controversial trend isn't likely to go away soon.