Hot potato: Ask one of your gamer friends what they think of loot boxes and you’ll probably start a 15 minute tirade about how they ruin games. Regulators have expressed disdain for the monetization method, saying it is predatory on children and calling it a “gamble” in some regions. And yet, despite all this, video game studios make billions of dollars a year using these gacha-like mechanics.
Norwegian Consumer Council (Forbrukerrådet) published a report this week concluding that loot box mechanics in games are predatory and exploitative of consumers. It alleges that these monetization platforms use techniques to deceive and manipulate the consumer into spending “(a lot)” of money with no guarantee of receiving a product of comparable value. The report prompted consumer watchdogs in 18 other countries to call for stronger regulation of games that use loot boxes.
Forbrukerrådet used FIFA 22 and Raid: Shadow Legends as two examples of how this method of monetization offends players.
⚠️Today we publish a report on how the gaming industry is exploiting consumers with loot boxes.
20 organizations from 18 European countries are joining us in calling for better regulation of video games. 🎮https://t.co/V68erOe2z7#lootbox #gaming #dark patterns #deceptivedesign pic.twitter.com/BjkzqgqPkG
— 🇺🇦Finn Lützow-Holm Mirstad (@finnmyrstad) May 31, 2022
“Both games use a wide arsenal of gimmicks to push consumers to spend as much time and money as possible exploiting consumers who hope to be rewarded despite the slim chance and likelihood of doing so. [sic],” concludes the executive summary.
The council discusses several methods used by these games to encourage players to spend money on in-game currency, which rarely has a readily convertible monetary value. They also use tactics such as time-limited sales of valuable boxes with better chances of getting a highly coveted item. The time limit creates a sense of urgency and “causes fear of missing out” on players, causing them to make impulsive purchases.
Forbrukerrådet suggests that regulators should place restrictions on how game publishers use loot boxes. Some ideas presented include:
- Prohibition of misleading games that exploit players
- List of prices for microtransactions in real currency
- Ban on loot boxes in any game that is “probably” played by minors.
- More transparency on how loot boxes are programmed to ensure fairness
- Improving and Strengthening Regulatory Oversight
Despite being one of the largest entertainment industries, the Council notes that video game developers have “often eluded serious regulatory oversight”. If the proposed actions do not work, Forbrukerrådet recommends that regulators consider a total ban on paid loot boxes.
However, as Blizzard recently revealed with Diablo Immortal, the studios would rather pull their game out of regions where the mechanic is banned than remove it entirely. This attitude makes any adopted rules practically toothless in terms of enforcement.
Image credit: SolarSeven