Loot boxes in video games have been linked to compulsive gambling after a 22-month debate, but the UK government has opted against a ban. After releasing their observations on Sunday from their investigation into loot boxes in video games, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) has urged firms to implement safeguards to keep children safe. With this decision in place, the UK’s broad Gambling Act won’t be used to scrutinize loot boxes in the future. However, the government has asked for guardian approval of loot box transactions and for all gamers to be privy to spending limits. “Market” and “contagion will be restricted” as a result of this price decline.
The opening of a mystery box or pack in a video game is known as a “loot box,” and it can be acquired with in-game cash or real-world money. Loot boxes or packs in popular Ultimate Team modes like FIFA 22 feature a random assortment of in-game player goodies when opened. When it comes to FIFA Ultimate Team, the odds of getting a rare player item vary greatly depending on the sort of pack or loot box you open. This has led some to equate the system with gambling. After the Belgian Gaming Commission ruled in 2018 that loot boxes were “in breach of gaming regulations,” the country prohibited them. No ban on loot boxes has been ruled out by Nadine Dorries of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but she has promised to explore legislation if sufficient protections aren’t put in place. Since research on loot boxes is still developing and government involvement could have unintended consequences, it would be too soon to pass laws without first looking for better ways for the industry to protect children and young people. The government said there will be no modifications to the Gambling Act or any statutory consumer safeguards regarding loot boxes at this time.
Why Did Campaigners Want Them to Be Removed?
The issue of loot boxes has been a controversial topic for a few years now, with campaigners saying it is akin to letting children use UK gambling sites. According to them, Loot boxes are the same as scratch-off cards: you pick one out of fascination, receive a little gift, and then it simply becomes a habit.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to purchase a video game, you’d have to shell out about £40 or so. Video game developers and publishers have had to discover new methods to generate money in the wake of the proliferation of smartphone games that are originally free to play and spiraling production expenses on big-budget titles. In several video games, players could buy virtual goods or have new missions unlocked by paying a fee rather than waiting a few hours for a new one to become available. Others charge for further content that is purely voluntary. Thus, loot boxes became a bigger part of developers’ business plans as their earnings continue to rise. For whatever reason, the gaming industry has been slow to crack down on developing online secondary markets where “skins”—or alternate looks—of in-game characters or objects can be traded for real money.
Loot boxes had sparked a lot of controversy because of their unpredictability. Loot boxes in the new Star Wars Battlefront video game sparked outrage among gamers last year, which finally led to their removal from the game. With the help of lawmakers from throughout the world, many politicians raised their concerns. They said in their report that a gambling-like process seen in loot boxes could contribute to the emergence of a gaming addiction by raising the likelihood of adverse mental or physical health impacts and might expose the user to considerable financial risk. They thought that the law at the time couldn’t keep up with how quickly the gaming business was growing and wasn’t up to par if loot boxes weren’t considered gambling in other countries.
What Do the Government and Experts Have to Say?
According to the experts, to safeguard players from the risks of gambling damage, game developers and platforms must do more to enforce controls and age limits. Parents and guardians should be able to relax knowing that their children are safe when playing video games. According to the data presented in the study, “Larger loot box spending is connected to increased problem gambling severity damage.” There is a “stable and persistent connection” between the usage of loot boxes and problem gambling.
The government says that loot boxes are linked to gambling addiction, but “research has not shown if there is a causal link.” Because the reward may only be used in-game and not exchanged for real money, most loot boxes do not fall within the Gambling Act 2005’s definition of gambling, as per the government’s consultation results. The CEO of Twist OBE said, “As a reputable industry, we’ve vowed to look at further methods to assist players and parents, to supplement what we’re currently doing to provide parental controls and increase awareness of them. As a member of the working group and the Video Games Research Framework, we look forward to working in collaboration with the department and other organizations.” He further added, “Even if FIFA and our games don’t entail gambling, we don’t believe that’s the case either. Loot boxes do not represent gambling, according to regulators in a number of countries throughout the globe.”
Nevertheless, ministers are likely to push for stricter restrictions on the UK’s video gaming sector through negotiations. To do this, a group of experts will form a working group, which is expected to provide its first report in the initial three months of 2023.