- A lawsuit against Apple for allowing Brawl Stars loot boxes has been dismissed by a federal judge
- Loot boxes have been a sensitive topic for many, and they have often been equated to a form of gambling
- The judge ruled that it was up to policymakers, not courts to establish whether loot boxes were an actual form of gambling
The tug of war between publishers of games that contain loot boxes and pretty much everyone else has been ongoing for years now. Loot boxes have proven a lucrative form of generating in-game revenue without burdening a game with the bane of the freemium model.
As more games turn to loot boxes for that juicy revenue, though, so are more people objecting to the model. The latest game targeted by a lawsuit against loot boxes became Supercell’s mobile hit, Brawl Stars. The lawsuit named Apple as the defendant for allowing the game on its mobile app store.
Loot Boxes in Brawl Stars Aren’t Tantamount to Gambling
On Tuesday, a San Francisco federal judge sided with Supercell and Apple, denying a class-action lawsuit that targeted the latter, alleging that by allowing Brawl Stars and loot boxes on its App Store, the company was effectively facilitating underage gambling.
The lawsuit, filed by a concerned parent from California, Rebecca Taylor, alleged that children were exposed to loot boxes without understanding the risk profile of those in-game purchases. Many people side with Taylor in general, and loot boxes have often been targeted by governments, parents, and even players themselves.
Most notoriously, EA’s Battlefront loot boxes caused an uproar back in 2018 when the company even issued a rare apology to community members, acknowledging that it “got it wrong.” Loot boxes in Brawl Stars don’t seem to be the same thing, though. In her lawsuit, Taylor explains that her son purchased $25 worth of in-game currency that was then spent on loot boxes.
However, Judge Richard Seeborg from the US District Court in the Northern District of California argued that under current state laws, loot boxes were permitted in California. As a result, it was down to state legislators to prohibit them, not the courts, should they deem it appropriate. Judge Seeborg explained:
“If plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the harmful effects of loot boxes are accurate, the public interest likely lies in seeking legislative remedies.”
Loot Boxes Are aa Broader Issue
Loot boxes have been long criticized for their gambling-like mechanic whereby an item will drop from the digital container, but a consumer would not be able to tell what the item is until they have purchased and opened the box.
After an initial wave of discontent, publishers were obligated to display the odds of each item opening across various jurisdictions. In the United States, there have been calls from individual states to classify loot boxes as gambling and in the United Kingdom, the ongoing Gambling Act Review often hinted at adding loot boxes in the process.
In 2018, a federal judge in Washington State, though, set a precedent by arguing that loot boxes are true “something of value” which resulted in the assets falling under the state’s gambling laws, which made them illegal. This resulted in a $155 million settlement for Big Fish, a game that offered such assets to its consumers.
Meanwhile, Apple’s defense rang familiar. The defendant’s lawyers argued that since Brawl Stars uses virtual currency and the items acquired in-game cannot be used or sold in the real world. In 2016, a massive class-action lawsuit against Valve alleged that the developers were facilitating real-money gambling through skins for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive because the skins could be gambled or sold through third-party websites that Valve had no affiliation with.
Since then, publishers have become far more cautionary when discussing or featuring loot boxes. Apple’s defense was held in court, but Taylor argued that in many ways, loot boxes were akin to slots and that Apple used a “predatory monetization scheme that violates established public policies and constitutes immoral, unethical, or unscrupulous conduct.”
Her argument has failed, but the growing wave of discontent against loot boxes is still simmering.