Belgium's Gaming Commission today declared that loot boxes in videogames are a form of gambling, and said that it would take the matter to Europe in pursuit of a ban against them. But interest in, and opposition to, the randomly filled digital boxes is gaining traction in the US, too. Rep. Chris Lee of Hawaii posted a video to YouTube in which he calls for "future protections for kids, youth, and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online gaming."
The video specifically addresses Star Wars Battlefront 2, the game that pushed the loot box controversy off a cliff. The title, for one thing, is "Highlights of the EA predatory behavior announcement," and in case there was any doubt how he feels about it, Lee describes the game as "a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money.
"It's a trap," he says, showing off his Star Wars bona fides. "And this is something that we need to address to ensure that, particularly kids who are underage, who are not psychologically and emotionally mature enough to be able to gamble—which is why gambling is prohibited under 21—are protected from being trapped into these cycles which have compelled many folks to spend thousands of dollars in gaming fees online.
"We're looking at legislation this coming year which could prohibit access, or prohibit the sale of these games, to folks who are underage, in order to protect families, as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms in those games."
Lee said in a follow-up Reddit post that the video actually wasn't supposed to go public yet, but someone found and shared it and he decided to leave it up and "post here to explain that this fight can be won if people step up.
"These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed," he wrote. "This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all."
In the video, Lee says that he's already been in contact with legislators in other states who are also taking a hard look at loot boxes. "Frankly, we don't need to change the laws in every state," he wrote in the Reddit post. "We just need to change a few and it will be enough to draw the line and compel change."
With all due respect to Belgium, I'd say that this is the sign that the ball has really begun to roll. Where it rolls—and what it rolls over—I cannot begin to guess. I can, however, aim you toward our more in-depth look at the case for and against loot boxes, according to developers.