The debate surrounding loot boxes in games has grown substantially in recent weeks, with some players now arguing that loot boxes are another form of gambling. While American ratings board the ESRB disagrees that loot boxes are gambling, as do UK organizations PEGI and UKIE, gamers across the pond are continuing to battle for reclassification.
Earlier this month, a Reddit user named artfunkel met with their local representative in the United Kingdom, Daniel Zeichner MP (Labour Party). Following the “very positive meeting”, the British politician formally submitted two questions to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on artfunkel’s behalf.
One question asks the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley MP (Conservative Party), “what steps she plans to take to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.”
The other asks “what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the Isle of Man’s enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes; and what discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on adopting such protections in the UK.” The Isle of Man (a British territory) is currently the only place in the world that “explicitly defines in-game items as money’s worth in its gambling law,” explains artfunkel.
According to the conversation that Zeichner had with artfunkel, replies to the loot box questions are expected to take around a month to arrive. When they do, they expect the replies to be “something non-committal” but these will at least get the conversation started on the issue.
It should be noted that Zeichner’s inquiries are not the only thing putting pressure on the UK government to weigh in on the issue. There is also an ongoing petition for the government to “adapt gambling laws to include gambling in video games which targets children”. It currently has over 11,000 signatures which means that the government will respond to it in some way (though this hasn’t happened yet).
If the UK government does decide to class loot boxes as gambling, it’s unclear what this might mean for gamers all over the world. Chinese law requires the odds of loot boxes be publicly available, which is how people know the drop rates of Overwatch loot boxes. But publishing drop rates is a lot different to, say, leaving loot boxes and microtransactions out of the UK version of a game but including them in every other regional variation.
Given the growing concerns about loot boxes being pay to win and whether their contents are even worth the money at all, exposing one set of players to loot boxes while hiding them from another will only fan the flames. The debate certainly poses a big headache for government bodies and game creators then, and all that’s left to do now is to wait and see what happens.
Source: Reddit, UK Parliament (1), (2), (3)