Google has just enforced its latest stance on loot boxes. The multinational technology company now requires that video games available on its Play Store disclose any offers of loot boxes in their app descriptions.
More specifically, the new payment stipulations say that any apps featuring mechanisms delivering “randomised virtual items” must clearly disclose, in advance of purchase, the chance of buyers actually receiving those items.
The stricter regulations follow the proposal of The Protecting Children from Abusive Game Acts, a bill introduced by United States Senator Josh Hawley in May 2019. The new piece of proposed legislation calls for harsher penalties on video games that offer loot boxes, as well as the outright banning of such rewards.
Mounting Loot Box Concerns
Loot boxes are a video game feature that awards unknown items, such as better weapons or powers, which are revealed after in-game or real currency is transferred. The fact that payment must be made before players can see what they're getting has led to a lot of criticism that buying the boxes is akin to gambling.
In-game purchases are not a new idea, but they are occurring at levels never seen before. Increasingly, players complain that no matter how much time they devote to a game, they can't move forward without buying loot boxes. Advancing on skill alone simply takes more hours than is humanly possible.
A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that there were similarities between the activities, and is part of a growing body of research supporting this claim. The fact that bright graphics and sounds accompany the “opening” of the reward boxes makes them even more similar to the lights and music associated with pokies, opponents say, and could lay the ground for later problem gambling behaviour.
The reaction among regulators has been anything but uniform. Some jurisdictions ban the reward schemes completely, while others argue that because players do always at least get something, buying the boxes is not the same as betting in a casino.
Gaming Industry's Loot Boxes Stand
Soon after Senator Hawley announced the protective bill, several of the gaming industry's most popular trade groups slammed his criticism of loot boxes as “devoid of substance”. They maintain that the rewards do not constitute gambling – a position they have held for a while, and one that is directly opposite to what opponents of the boxes are saying. Arguments on both sides are understandable and fiercely supported, so the future of loot boxes remains to be seen.