Calls to classify loot boxes as gambling

Viktor Vangelov | Published 8 Jun 2020, 10:04 p.m.

Look boxes is one of the most discussed and most controversial topics in the gaming community in the past year or two. It is a point where gaming meets gambling in a way and you can see why this topic is considered rather provocative.

We did cover this issue on a number of occasions, so perhaps it would be good to do a bit of a recap, before we go into the current matter, namely that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is going to investigate loot boxes again before reaching a decision whether it is a form of gambling, and more importantly, whether it can encourage addictive behaviour in children.

The issue of loot boxes was first discussed in the House of Commons back in autumn last year. We reported on this discussion on loot boxes and their effect. Then Deputy Leader of the Labour Party argued in favour of classifying loot boxes as gambling. Later that year it was the Children’s Commissioner who called for banning loot boxes.

The debate was ongoing in other countries as well and some went as far to ban loot boxes outright. Even the Fortnite boss called for the end of loot boxes. So, let’s have a look at the latest initiative on loot boxes.

Loot boxes is a huge industry

Very popular games, such as the FIFA franchise have included loot boxes and minors were often using this feature, which is to say that they were spending their parents’ money on loot boxes. In case you’re not familiar with loot boxes as a concept, it involves paying for in-game items without knowing what item you will get. So certain players keep buying loot boxes until they get the desired item, which, according to many experts resembles gambling.

Not to mention that, until a while ago there were third-party websites that organised item gambling, without any age restrictions. This was pointed to by many and Valve took decisive action, but the very problem regarding the nature of loot boxes persists.

There is serious opposition to loot boxes, but many game developers depend on them as a source of income, as the whole value of loot boxes to the game industry is calculated at £23 billion annually.

MPs feel there’s a strong case to classify loot boxes as gambling

Let us look at the potential consequences. If loot boxes are reclassified, that would have a tremendous impact on games and game developers moving forward. Game developers could be forced to either stop selling loot boxes or make them unavailable to people under the age of 18.

The reason why loot boxes have not been covered by gambling legislation and the UKGC has not been dealing with the issue is the fact that the items that players win or receive are not assigned a regular monetary value.

But, as we mentioned above, these items can be exchanged for actual cash on third party sites and that’s when things can become really problematic. Labour MP Carolyn Harris is the chairperson of a parliamentary group of MPs from different parties who investigate gambling related issues and she feels that loot boxes encourage young people to keep on taking chances, which in turn can lead to development of problematic habits.