The loot crate controversy has kicked up another gear, with both the Belgium Gaming Commission launching an investigation into whether loot boxes constitute gambling, and US legislator from Hawaii calling out the “predatory practices” of loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 and other online games.
We’ll start with Belgium, where the Gaming Commission has classified loot boxes as gambling and called for them to banned through Europe. "The mixing of money and addiction is gambling," said the Gaming Commission. "It will require time because we need to go to Europe with this. We will absolutely try to forbid it."
The Minister for Justice, Koen Geens, also said "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child." The Gaming Commission’s opposition is specifically targeted towards blind boxes rather than in-game purchases in general, although it’s unclear whether they’re also concerned about games that specifically target adults also.
Independently of this, Democrat politician Chris Lee, Hawaii State Representative and Chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee has called Star Wars Battlefront 2 a “Star Wars-theme online casino designed to lure kids” with “predatory practices”.
"We're here today to ensure future protections for kids, youth and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online gaming, and the significant financial consequences it can have - and has been having - on families around this nation," said Lee.
"This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spreading money; it's a trap. This is something 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.”
It’s not a good look for Disney in particular, a company which prides itself on catering to children. Lee is looking to take legal action and potential call for a ban of loot crates. "We're looking at legislation this coming year which could 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. We've been talking with several other states as well - legislators there who are looking at the same thing. This is the appropriate time to make sure these issues are addressed before this becomes the new norm for every game."
Fellow Democrat Sean Quinlan also stepped up to the plate, likening the Battlefront loot boxes to old advertising that used to encourage kids to smoke.
"One of the things that's really disturbing about this, to me, is this was previously a business practice that was mostly seen in the mobile gaming market and now it's moved into the main event," said Quinlan
"This is a triple-A title that's been released by the world's largest gaming studio, and it has the most popular intellectual property in the world attached to it, and it's marketed squarely at children.
"Some of you folks who are older may remember a character called Joe Camel. He's not around anymore. We didn't allow Joe Camel to encourage your kids to smoke cigarettes and we shouldn't allow Star Wars to encourage your kids to gamble."
While Star Wars Battlefront 2 is the main target, it’s certainly not alone in its practices. Frustration just so happened to boil over for this particular game, but the likes of Valve actively have means to profit and loss from its CSGO, Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2 microtransactions. Right now Disney is probably fuming though, particularly when one of its licenses is described as a casino for kids. It's going to be intriguing to see how this controversy rumbles on and what actual changes ccome about because of it.