Now obviously, there’s a difference between making a YouTube video about an issue and actually doing something about it. However, given that the makers of the video are the state representative of Hawaii and a few of his bill-writing buddies, I have high hopes that this indicates action about to be taken. Depending on how they go forward with this, it could either be good or bad, but we’ll cross that bridge when we finally get it from a box.
On Dec. 5th, Chris Lee and his compatriots sat down to discuss the problem of loot boxes in gaming. They stated that minors should not be allowed to purchase games with “gambling mechanisms” included, and continued on to talk about exactly why Lee wanted to take action.
They specifically mentioned Star Wars: Battlefront II, in case you were wondering.
Lee was very careful to differentiate between spending money on in-game items and spending money on the chance of in-game items, providing an example of a $200 sword to clarify his stance. He states that spending money on a chance of something, no matter what it is, is a form of gambling. A minor is, of course, anybody under the age of 21.
He also makes mention of some third-hand information that says some publishers actually change the odds of certain items dropping once they’re identified to be looking for that specific item. “Once the algorithm identifies a player who’s likely to keep spending money to buy that one ‘unicorn thing’ that they’re after … they lower the odds and then you keep spending more,” he says, “It’s absolutely unethical and unfair.” He admits that this info is unverified, but honestly, I don’t see any reason to doubt it happens somewhere.
In a move similar to the one China took last year, Lee is looking to have an “accountability piece” of legislation drawn up. This would presumably force publishers to reveal loot box drop rates, which of course would make any tampering with those rates glaringly obvious.
At the end of the video, he issues a call to action. He implores people who agree with him to write to their elected officials and “ask them to consider taking action to protect local families and particularly underage youth from predatory gaming practices.” For people not comfortable with writing their own letter, the video includes a link to a “Predatory Gaming Letter” template.
“Loot box game mechanisms are often styled to literally resemble slot machines, and are made available to anyone in games on their mobile phones, consoles such as the X-Box, Playstation, and on home computers. This may explain why the American Psychological Association has identified ‘Internet Gaming Disorder‘ as an emerging diagnosis which warrants further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),” the letter states.
“Unlike carnival games, collecting cards, or similar purchases of chance, videogames require active, lengthy participation during which consumers are exposed to psychological manipulation techniques which can result in real addiction and harm. The scale and ease of access to these games make addressing these concerns critical. Casinos have long been criticized for building a business model around the exploitation of psychological vulnerabilities in many people. These business models are now being replicated by the online gaming industry to do the same, right on the phones and in the homes of countless families around the country.”
“Game developers in the gaming industry are represented by their trade group, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). In 1994 the ESA created the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to provide videogame ratings for consumers,” the letter says. “Unsurprisingly, the ESA and ESRB have taken a position defending the lucrative revenue streams generated by these predatory mechanisms, claiming that predatory loot boxes do not fall under the current definition of gambling.”
As plainly stated by the last paragraph, Lee’s letter puts into doubt the ability of the gaming industry to regulate itself. After seeing what’s been occurring these past few years, I can’t help but concur.