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Game Mode: Loot Boxes And The Law

Customers play games in an Xbox gaming area in London, England.
Peter Summers/Getty Images
Customers play games in an Xbox gaming area in London, England.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has introduced legislation to regulate the sale of loot boxes in video games. It’s a way some gamers get caught up purchasing pricey premiums in free games.

Here’s how it works: A player is working their way through a game, and then the opportunity to purchase a new power or an extra reward comes up. But the stakes can be high — some gamers criticized a recent version of a Star Wars game because it essentially required them to pay to win.

And here’s how a rep for gaming company EA defended the practice, per Wired:

EA’s head of legal of government affairs Kerry Hopkins compared them to Kinder Eggs, calling them “surprise mechanics” and insisting that they are “ethical” and “fun,” and that they just provide a healthy, enjoyable surprise to boys and girls the whole world over. Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is continuing its investigation into “addictive and immersive technologies,” so it might be a while before we find out if the members agree with EA on this.

Loot box upgrades tend to attract younger players, many of whom don’t have a concept of what it means to spend real money (their own or their parents) in a virtual world. In turn, they bring in huge amounts of revenue. And there’s a debate happening around whether purchasing loot boxes can be classified as gambling, since the loot remains concealed until after the payment has been processed.

How are loot boxes changing the player experience? Are they lawful? And should the federal government step in?

Show produced by Kathryn Fink.


Charlie Hall, Senior reporter, Polygon; @CharlieLHall

Stanley Pierre-Louis, President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association (ESA)

Steven Blickensderfer, Technology lawyer, Esports and Electronic Gaming Practice, Carlton Fields; host, “LAN Party Lawyers”; @sblicken

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