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In-game loot boxes to be the subject of an FTC investigation

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Nov 28, 2018, 4:49 PM EST (Updated)

The Federal Trade Commission has pledged an investigation into loot boxes that are found within video games.

An investigation was first requested by New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan in February of this year. Earlier today at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, FTC chairman Joe Simons told Hassan that he would be looking into the matter in an official capacity, per a report from Polygon.

Loot boxes have become synonymous with modern gaming. These virtual items give the playable characters special in-game abilities, often at the cost of real-world currency. It's that reason that Hassan wants them investigated, having equated loot crates' monetization tactic to gambling.

"Loot boxes are now endemic in the video game industry and are present in everything from casual smartphone games to the newest, high-budget releases," the senator said. She added that her concern had grown due to the fact that loot crates are on track to becoming a $50 billion-a-year industry — possibly citing a report from Juniper Research released in April.

"It’s time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms to ensure that children are being adequately protected, and to educate parents about potential addiction and other negative impacts of these games," said Hassan, who also pointed out that there is similar legislation in place Japan and the Netherlands.

Loot boxes have recently come under considerable fan scrutiny as well. One obvious example is with EA's Star Wars sequel Battlefront 2, which ended up removing all in-game purchases after repeated accusations of trying to bleed more cash from people who had already paid for the game.

Worth noting is that earlier this year, Hassan inquired about loot boxes to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which resulted in them adding the now-ubiquitous "in-game purchases" label to all games where loot boxes are used.

As of now, there's no official word on when the formal FTC investigation will begin.