From the US to Belgium, the predatory pseudo-gambling video game “loot box” business model is coming under fire, and politicians are finally taking notice.
Hawaiian State Representatives Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan have taken a public stand against what Lee called “a Star-Wars themed online casino,” which he observed as “designed to lure kids into an addictive cycle of spending money gambling for upgrades,” all-too-appropriately concluding, “it’s a trap.”
Lee pointed out that “nothing currently prevents EA from exploiting people buying lootcrates with random contents through microtransactions,” and finally stood first among his peers to point out that “companies like these are allowed to specifically target youth without the cognitive maturity to know when they are being exploited.”
For those wondering just how conscious of the issue and its history-making backlash the Hawaii State Representative actually is, Lee specifically included language that anyone familiar with the controversy would recognize in reference to the action already being taken:
We know it will give families who have been victims of these predatory practices a sense of pride and accomplishment to have worked to prevent future exploitation, and we have been working, both with them and legislators in other states, who are also considering ways to address this important issue. [emphasis added]
Quinlan followed with an even more pointed comparison, stating that “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.”
Meanwhile, this same conversation is quickly gaining traction in Belgium, started by no less than their Minister of Justice, Koen Geens. Geens has openly called for a ban on titles that employ the aforementioned shady practices. His conclusion, that “mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child,” is supported by psychological research and.
For that reason, Belgium’s Gaming Commission is investigating whether the “mixture of money and addiction is a game of chance” and thus constitutes a form of gambling, according to a PC Gamer report.
Meanwhile, not all voices are rising in agreement. Michael Pachter — notorious in the gaming community for projections that veer between the mind-numbingly obvious and wildly inaccurate — has decided to argue the semantics of the term “gambling” itself and ignore the fact that the issue is about new definitions, for a new method of predation, in a new medium. According to Pachter, possible government action is proof that “we truly elect morons” who “should resign immediately.”
Pachter is not alone. Analyst Evan Wingren told CNBC that consumers are “overreacting” and that, if anything, “they’re undercharged.” According to Wingren, game companies “should probably raise prices,” and this entire situation “has been a perfect storm for overreaction as it involves EA, Star Wars, reddit, and certain purist gaming journalists/outlets who dislike [microtransactions].”
It appears that we are finally about to have a real conversation about the predatory anti-consumer monetization practices that have been working their way into the youngest generation’s primary entertainment medium. Maybe EA really was doing us a favor all along.
Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.