Loot boxes in video games could be classified as gambling by the UK Government, which is currently requesting evidence to both sides of the argument.
The discussion on whether or not loot boxes are counted as gambling has been raging on for some years now, and even some countries like Belgium have already made them illegal in games rated for those under the age of 18.
Those within the gaming industry have defended their inclusion in their games, with representatives of Electronic Arts having compared loot boxes to Kinder Surprise chocolate Eggs and referring to them as ‘surprise mechanics’.
Previous UK investigations
This isn’t the first time that the UK Government has investigated loot boxes, but last time they decided not to count them as gambling. However, this stance seems to be changing.
According to a report from The Guardian newspaper, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be asking for evidence on why loot boxes can be considered gambling. This investigation comes after there were growing concerns that such mechanics are contributing to children developing addictions or encouraging them to take up traditional gambling in later life.
At the last investigation, the government concluded that loot boxes could not be considered as gambling as they did not involve any sort of money exchange, even though there were websites in which you could sell the things you get In loot boxes.
‘They are a virtually speculative commodity that only helps to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance,’ said Carolyn Harris, Labour MP, ‘All too often this will lead to youngsters developing an addiction to gambling.’
Harris is currently the head of the cross-party group of MP’s who investigate gambling harm, and her statements do match what was found in a 2018 study, which found that up to a million people aged between 11-16, said they took up gambling due to their exposure to video game loot boxes.
The video game industry has been taking steps in recent years to add more precautions in relation to loot boxes. Both Pan European Game Information (PEGI), and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) have introduced a new rating system that d mention when games have loot boxes within them.
How the industry is combatting loot boxes
Last year, all the major players in the video game hardware sector, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have all committed to a new initiative that will require video game publishers to disclose the odds of receiving in-game items from the loot boxes.
Loot boxes are very prevalent across the video game industry. The major players are Call of Duty, Fortnite, Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2. The backlash on the last of those was so significant that the developers had to completely rework that system as it pressured gamers into buying loot boxes to compete ingame. All these games are rated at least 16+, so the loot boxes aren’t affecting children, as they are not the intended audience of these games.
Then we move to the focus of this investigation, and that is the EA Sports annual franchises: FIFA, Madden, NBA Live and NHL. It is mainly FIFA, that is the focus of most concerns. In the video below the YouTuber explains precisely the problem with FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode.
Ultimate Team is EA’s most significant singular money maker and accounts for a third of their annual income. This is where the government needs to step in as these games are currently rated as PEGI 3, so children in primary schools can log in and spend however much is on the card linked to the account without them even realising.
If loot boxes get classified as gambling, it would shake up the video game industry to its core foundations and mean entire games need to be redesigned.