Lootboxes in video games are definitely a hot topic these days. If you need proof, just look at the controversy around Battlefront 2.
While some governments are calling for them to be regulated similar to gambling devices, groups that represent game developers have pushed back hard on that idea.
Recently, the International Game Developers Association referred to regulating lootboxes as "censorship," in advance of a panel discussion that it's holding at the Game Developer's Conference next month.
To dig into the issue a big more, we chatted with the IGDA's executive director Jen MacLean. Here’s what she said, regarding the whole gambling/censorship issue.
Does the IGDA feel like regulating lootboxes in games (ie - not selling them to people
under 18/21) is censorship? And if so, why? It doesn't seem like anyone's proposed
regulating what kind of content can be in games.
The IGDA is concerned about the potential unintended consequences of regulations, made
by people who don’t understand game development or game design, and done in hundreds
of different political systems around the world. Poorly-written regulations, or laws that are
inconsistent, do pose a risk of restricting content in games.
For example, if a law banned all random in-game prizes, the restriction could apply to a
large number of RPGs that have random loot drops but do not use lootboxes.
We believe that it’s important to discuss the issue openly – including the steps game
developers and game players can and should take – to make sure game content isn’t
inappropriately restricted or limited.
A lot has been said about lootboxes being necessary these days to make up for the low
sticker price of games (considering they've been $50-60 for years). Do you guys think that
lootboxes can be predatory in some cases?
Yes, lootboxes can be predatory in some cases, and can be relatively innocuous in others.
We think the best approach to lootboxes involves reasonable, responsible implementations
by game developers, including agreeing not to target children with lootboxes, clearly
disclosing drop rates, and making it easy for players to track how much money they’ve spent
We strongly favor an open, constructive dialogue between game players and game
developers about lootboxes, especially as an alternative to regulation. By choosing not to
purchase lootboxes, or not to play games that use lootboxes in ways players feel are
unethical, gamers wield tremendous influence and can push change in the interactive
entertainment industry far more effectively and more quickly than regulation possibly
It’s also important to note that in addition to the censorship roundtable, the IGDA’s Game
Design Special Interest Group is holding a roundtable on professional ethics in game design.
You guys represent indie devs, are they looking more into implementing lootboxes lately,
as we've seen with bigger publishers like EA?
As more games have moved to service models, requiring additional ongoing investment in
content and operations, developers of all sizes are exploring ways to maintain and grow
What role do parents have to play in this?
Parents have final responsibility to monitor the content that their children consume.
However, game developers and publishers also have a responsibility – to parents and
consumers of all kinds – to clearly disclose the type of content (including microtransactions
and random purchases) in their games so that parents can make well-informed decisions
about the games their children play.