Over the past couple of years, the called Lootbox has risen to the fore as a new way of increasing sales for a game. Hawaii has announced aims to curb these electronic gambling systems. The lawmakers in Hawaii argue that these lootboxes are psychologically damaging and exploitative.
Lootboxes are an in-game item that can be bought for real money containing various items, some being rarer than others. The items you buy are not revealed until the box is open. Some people fear that players who use these lootboxes could become addicted to gambling.
The release of Star Wars Battlefront II in November 2017 caused huge outrage amongst fans when it was realised that powerful upgrades for characters could only be obtained through lootboxes, not through just playing the game itself.
Further controversy embroiled the game, when players discovered legendary characters such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader through steep gameplay requirements but could be unlocked quicker by purchasing in game currency which could then be used to unlock the characters.
Consequently, a comment by an EA representative on Reddit is now credited as the most downvoted comment of all time.
The backlash further escalated, from fans to EA and Disney and even sparked debate among politicians around the world. Politician Chris Lee of Hawaii even made a video about the controversy.
“These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed.” Lee
said at the time. “These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”
The four bills introduced by Hawaii are a direct result of this backlash. Two of the bills, House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025 would force game developers to label those games containing randomized lootboxes and, more importantly, disclose the probability rates of each reward.
The other two bills focus on prohibiting the sale of games which contain randomized purchase boxes to anyone under the age of 21. Chris Lee is once again spearheading the legislation and explained more than half the U.S states are pursuing a form of lootbox oversight legislation.
Despite the controversy, it is hard to ignore just how profitable the lootbox can be. Last week, Activision Blizzard announced that their game Overwatch made $4 billion in micro transaction sales alone.