Loot boxes have long been an annoyance of videogames, especially when you pay for the box. When you spend your $5, will you get three $1 skins, or will you get a $25 weapon? There is never any telling, and it has caused a lot of trouble. There is no better example than Star Wars: Battlefront II, the game synonymous with the problem. Gamers were not happy with the almost requirement of purchasing boxes with no idea of what they would be buying. EA eventually killed the feature, but not before taking a huge hit in sales.
Since then, governments the world over, including the US Federal Trade Commission have investigated the legality of the practice. With unknown chances, the governments maintain that the practice amounts to gambling, which is illegal outside of designated areas in most countries. As with most government activities, these inquiries have been slow going, and will likely not amount to much. However, the gaming industry has always been great at regulating itself, thanks to the ESA, most famous for the game rating program.
This week, at an event, called "Inside the Game," Michael Warnecke, the chief counsel of tech policy for the ESA announced that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony had worked together to require loot box odds disclosure on future games.
I'm pleased to announce this morning that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have indicated to ESA a commitment to new platform policies concerning the use of paid loot boxes in games that are developed for their platform. Specifically, this would apply to new games and game updates that add loot box features. And it would require the disclosure of the relative rarity or probabilities of obtaining randomized virtual items in games that are available on their platforms.
This will not apply to games that are out in the wild already, as some of those games would be outside of their update period. However, it will apply to all new games released on the big three platforms, as well as any existing games that add loot boxes after the rules go into effect. The exact timeline for implementation is unknown, but it will be completed by the end of 2020.
This comes as other members of the industry have been abandoning paid loot boxes entirely. Fortnite is phasing out the concept now, as will Rocket League, which was recently acquired by Fortnite developer Epic. This is definitely the direction that most gamers would prefer, and these changes from such a large publisher are a move in the right direction.