Yesterday, Democratic State Representative from Hawaii Chris Lee held a press conference to explain that the state of Hawaii will be investigating legislation to ban games like EA's Star Wars: Battlefront II from being played by young children, both in Hawaii and possibly pursuing it on a national scale.
Belgium also declared today that the government has ruled that games with loot boxes will henceforth be categorized as gambling. Hawaii is pursuing investigations is whether the same idea applies in the U.S. A French senator wrote a letter to the French gambling authority this week espousing similar arguments as well. So, political stands against loot boxes are becoming more of a thing.
"This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino," Lee said from the podium. "It's a trap."
While I can see where people are coming from with this, however, loot boxes lack the critical risk-reward paradigm that constitutes gambling. As the ESRB has already taken a stand against considering loot boxes to be gambling, I don't see the idea catching fire in the rest of the States. While Lee's rhetoric sounds great, it is fundamentally flawed. Loot boxes, while they cost real money, reward you no matter what happens. There is no way for you to buy a loot box and get absolutely nothing. You may not like what you get, but you receive a prize regardless. Loot boxes don't even classify as simulated gambling, because there is no risk.
While I can understand the political pressure to respond to the massive wave of allegations against games like Battlefron II over their divisive micro-transaction systems, I think trying to frame them as gambling is a distraction from the real problem. People aren't mad over loot boxes existing. We're fine with them in Overwatch where they give out vanity items – and only vanity items – as rewards. We're upset with loot boxes when they fall into a pay-to-win dynamic. So it isn't gambling that is causing the upset, not really.
Now, it is possible Hawaii and France will sanction loot boxes in some way – China already does – but it won't stop publishers like EA from releasing games with loot boxes. It'll just mean they have to slap a different warning label on them.
Now, if you want to argue that loot boxes shouldn't be allowed in games marketed to children, well. That I think we can all come to an agreement upon. But, was Battlefront II really marketed to children? The game is rated T for violent content.
It just sort of seems a lot like a gamer version of the Moms against Metal groups that started springing up in the 80s. Misguided and a little overzealous.
The video bleow features Lee, speaking with other legislator Sean Quinlan, a concerned parent, and a gamer who just seems to be mad about loot boxes ruining games.