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The FTC will examine loot boxes during a workshop in August

The FTC's promised public workshop on loot boxes will take place on August 7, the agency announced today, with game industry representatives, consumer advocates, trade associations, academics, and government officials coming together to discuss the marketing and sale of in-game purchases "and the potential behavioral impact of these virtual rewards on young consumers." 

The workshop, entitled "Inside the Game: Unlocking the Consumer Issues Surrounding Loot Boxes," will cover the origin and evolution of loot boxes and the roles they play in videogames, examine research into consumer behavior (including children and adolescents), and discuss consumer awareness and education about digital transactions, particularly "the mechanics, marketing, and financial commitments associated with loot boxes."   

Loot boxes of various sorts have been kicking around in games for years, but they blew up (in a bad way) in 2017 with EA's Star Wars Battlefront 2. Since then, debate has raged over whether they constitute gambling and should be regulated as such. Major publishers and game rating agencies including the ESA and PEGI say no, but numerous government agencies have strongly disagreed. Belgium and the Netherlands were among the first nations to crack down on them; the US agreed to look into the matter, by way of an FTC investigation, in late 2018. 

Some publishers have reacted to the tightened regulations by changing how they handle loot boxes, but only in the countries where it's been specifically mandated: Blizzard disabled Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm loot boxes in Belgium, for example, while CS:GO loot cases can no longer be unlocked by players in Belgium and the Netherlands. Others, like EA and Epic, have taken a broader-but-softer approach by revealing the drop rates of loot boxes before they're purchased.

The FTC is accepting suggestions for other potential workshop topics at looktboxworkshop@ftc.gov until June 7, and will also accept comments on the topic at regulations.gov until October 11. The workshop will also be open to the public, if you're going to be in Washington DC on the appointed date. Full details are available at ftc.org

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.