Nintendo, Sony, And Microsoft Agree To Start Disclosing Digital Loot Box Odds

Opponents consider them a form of gambling that attracts children.

a closeup shot of a pair of hands holding a video game controller
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Opponents consider them a form of gambling that attracts children.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced Wednesday that three of the biggest names in the video-game industry will begin publishing the odds of so-called “loot boxes,” Kotaku reports.

Beginning some time in 2020, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will publish the odds of getting sought-after items when players purchase the loot boxes. The rules would apply to new games, as well as new content for existing games that include the feature.

What’s A “Loot Box”?

Video games, whether played on consoles such as the Xbox One or the PS4, on your mobile device, or on your PC, often contain what are called “micro-transactions.” That is, for anywhere from a few cents to several dollars of real money, you can purchase an in-game upgrade. Perhaps it’s better armor for your character, better weaponry, or strictly decorative items.

A form of micro-transaction that has emerged over the past few years is a “loot box.” Players pay an amount of real money — again, anywhere from a few cents to several dollars — for a virtual treasure chest or similar object that contains random virtual “loot.” The player who purchases a loot box, The Verge reports, may get a sought-after piece of gear, or they may get a whole lot of common currency. It’s literally the luck of the draw.

People Have Gone Broke Buying Loot Boxes, And Some Consider Them A Form Of Gambling

People have spent thousands of dollars buying loot boxes, either through trying to get that special, much sought-after piece of equipment, or because it becomes an addiction.

One gamer said, via The Verge, that she had to ask the developers of Path of Exile to disable her ability to buy loot boxes within the game. She was reportedly spending upwards of $400 at a time. Another Reddit user said he’d spent $10,000 on loot boxes.

This trend has gotten the notice of lawmakers, who equate the transactions to a form of legalized gambling, according to a 2018 report from The New York Times. And what’s more, children play video games, meaning that young players who don’t fully understand the value of money are using their parents’ credit cards to risk money on in-game loot that they may not get.

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In fact, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill in May that would prohibit the sale of loot boxes to minors under the age of 18. The bill would also make it illegal for games marketed to children to include pay-to-win microtransactions, according to a companion report from The Verge.

Self-Regulating

Kotaku writer Ethan Gach says that, by agreeing to disclose the odds on loot boxes, the video-game industry is engaging in a form of self-regulation when it comes to loot boxes. Several developers have already implemented internal loot-box controls in their games. Some of those controls include labels that indicate if a game has in-game purchases, and other controls limit the amount of money that children can spend on those purchases.

A Sony spokesperson, meanwhile, says that publishing in-game loot box odds “will help them [players] make informed decisions about in-game purchasing.”