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FTC to begin loot box investigation with public workshop

"A workshop could help elicit information to guide subsequent consumer outreach, which could include a consumer alert."

The Federal Trade Commission will begin digging into the issue of loot boxes by hosting a public workshop on the subject later this year. 

As reported by Variety, FTC chairman Joseph Simons detailed the plan in a letter to Senator Maggie Hassan, who back in November 2018 called on the organization to investigate the controversial monetisation technique. 

"I think it is time for the FTC to investigate these mechanisms to ensure children are being adequately protected, and to educate parents about potential addiction or other negative impacts of these games," she commented at the time.

In his response, Simons explained he shares Hassan's concerns, but couldn't go into specifics when discussing any "non-public law enforcement efforts." That said, he was keen to talk up the potential impact the FTC's planned workshop might have. 

"We are currently planning a public workshop on loot boxes for later this year as one non-law enforcement option," he wrote.

"A workshop could provide a forum for stakeholders representing wide-ranging perspectives, including consumer advocacy organizations, parent groups, and industry members. It also could help elicit information to guide subsequent consumer outreach, which could include a consumer alert."

While the FTC is taking its first tentative steps, regulators in other countries such as Belgium, South Korea, and the Netherlands have already begun cracking down on loot boxes, and in some cases have even banned them outright. 

Others, however, have defended the practice, with the ESRB and the ESA refuting the notion that loot boxes constitute gambling -- largely because (in most cases) they have no real-world value and always contain some form of prize. 

Hassan, meanwhile, claims the FTC's workshop is a step in the right direction, but has encouraged the outfit to work towards making "meaningful improvements."

"I appreciate the FTC’s continued engagement on the issue of loot boxes, particularly in regards to the well-being of young gamers," she told Variety. 

"A public workshop on loot boxes is a step in the right direction, and I encourage the FTC to continue working with consumer advocates, parents, gamers, and industry members to ensure that meaningful improvements are made to increase transparency and consumer protections around loot boxes."

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