Game Over for Loot?

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In recent months, video game companies have come under increased scrutiny due to the use of so-called “loot box” mechanics in their games. In essence, loot boxes are a type of micro-transaction that enable players to pay (either in-game currency or real money) for a chance to unlock items such as outfits, tools and special abilities. This “loot” can help players advance through a game more quickly and/or have an enhanced gameplay experience.

Regulators, academics and gamers around the world are concerned that this mechanic resembles gambling, in that players are paying for a chance to win something that is useful or otherwise desirable. Many argue that this could cross the line into gambling territory because players don’t know what they are actually purchasing when they pay for loot boxes – it could be a rare weapon, or it could be useless junk.

Belgium recently stated that loot box mechanics are in violation of its gambling laws, stating:

Paying loot boxes are no innocent component of video games which present themselves as a game of skill. Players are tempted and mislead by them and none of the protective measures for games of chance are applied. Now that it has become clear that children and vulnerable persons in particular are being exposed to this without any protection, the game producers, and also the parties involved, are called upon to put a stop to this practice.

While some countries have begun to follow Belgium’s lead in denouncing loot boxes, others have declined to introduce regulation due to a lack of conclusive research on the link between loot boxes and gambling. To date, there is no indication that loot box regulation, whether under gaming and/or consumer protection legislation, is on the horizon in Canada.

In any event, the video game industry finally has my attention – which could be the biggest “surprise mechanic” of all.


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Lauren Sigouin