The Washington legislature might involve itself in the issue of loot boxes in video games and whether virtual items constitute gambling in the state.
Loot boxes are items included in some video games in which a random in-game item — oftentimes of varying usefulness or desirability within the game — can be acquired by players. The issue came to a head with purchasable loot boxes in the game Star Wars Battlefront II.
What’s in the loot box bill?
The bill — S 6266 — does not seek to take any direct action on loot boxes yet. Instead, it says that the Washington State Gambling Commission “must conduct a study of the use of loot boxes and similar types of mechanisms in online games or apps.”
#SB6266 is regarding #lootboxes in online games and apps. The bill would require WSGC to conduct a study on the use of loot boxes and how best to regulate them. Questions include: are loot boxes considered gambling? Should minors be able to play? No action today #WSGCmeeting
— WA Gambling Comm (@WAGambling) January 11, 2018
The result of the WSGC study would be due by December of this year, if the bill is enacted. The WSGC is expected to provide recommendations:
…regarding how to best regulate the practice of including loot boxes and similar types of mechanisms in online games and apps, including options for the adoption and implementation of a regulatory and enforcement system, restrictions on the sale of games containing these mechanisms, and any appropriate disclosures.
The backstory of loot boxes
The bill comes after a legislator in Hawaii introduced legislation to ban certain types of loot boxes connected to micro-transactions. Loot boxes have attracted the attention of policymakers and regulators in the US and Europe.
Washington state has been at the fore of gambling issues as they intersect with video games and esports. In 2016, the state’s gambling commission told Valve Corp. — based in Bellevue, Wash. — to put a stop to skin betting; skins are a type of in-game virtual item.