Loot boxes in video games could become categorised as gambling by the UK government, following a call for evidence from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Concerns have been raised that loot boxes are training children to gamble, and could potentially lead them to addiction in later life.
The DCMS released a statement on 8 June which revealed that it will launch a call for evidence into the impact of loot boxes later this year.
The announcement said, “The DCMS Select Committee’s report on Immersive and Addictive Technologies highlighted important issues facing some users in this fast changing space.
“The response published by the department today sets out the steps the government is taking to address these concerns and protect audiences across the UK.”
Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dineage, said, “During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen more people than ever before turn to video games and immersive technology to keep them entertained and to stay in touch with friends and family.
“These innovations can present challenges as well as opportunities, which is why we are taking the necessary steps to protect users and promote the safe enjoyment of this dynamic industry.”
Review of the Gambling Act
The announcement explained that the government is committed to tackling issues around loot boxes “in response to serious concerns about this model for in-game purchasing”.
The call for evidence on loot boxes aims to examine links between gambling like behaviour and excessive spending in games.
“The findings will provide a solid foundation for future steps and will be considered alongside a review of the Gambling Act,” the DCMS said.
What would happen if loot boxes were classified as gambling?
If the evidence calls for it and loot boxes are classified as gambling, it would mean that developers and publishers would have to redesign their games in order to be sold to players under 18 - otherwise they would have to withdraw the titles entirely.
In Belgium, loot boxes are classified as gambling. Several companies have made their games with loot boxes unavailable to customers in Belgium. CounterStrike: Global Offensive introduced a patch which prevented players from Belgium from being able to open loot boxes.
What are loot boxes?
Loot boxes are virtual treasure chests which contain unknown items that can be used in the game, such as skins to customise their characters or the ability to unlock different abilities.
It’s completely random what any individual player can get - one player could contain extremely rare and desirable items and the other could just be full of random junk.
Players pay an in-game fee to open the box using virtual money, but games are often designed to encourage players to exchange real money for virtual money in order to open the box.
Loot boxes are classified as a ‘microtransaction’ in a game, which represents a revenue stream for the company behind a game.
The Young People & Gambling 2018 study said that up to a million children between the ages of 11 and 16 had taken up gambling due to their exposure to loot boxes.