Time may be up for loot boxes soon

Written by Jennifer Allen

June 9, 2020 | 15:00

Tags: #loot-boxes #uk-government

It looks like time might be up for loot boxes soon, or at least they may cause relevant games to be reclassified as gambling products. 

That's dependent on how a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport's investigation into the concept goes, according to The Guardian. This week, it will launch a call for evidence on loot boxes to evaluate whether the popular consumable in game could be encouraging children to gamble. 

Loot boxes, in case you've forgotten, typically allow players to spend money on in-game rewards such as special characters, equipment, skins and so forth. They're big money for game developers, particularly because they can run and run, keeping the bank balance buoyant for a while to come if done in a particularly attractive way, rather than the 'one-shot' nature of a game purchase. 

Currently, loot boxes aren't covered by existing gambling legislation, even though they do involve an element of chance. That's because the items won aren't considered to have monetary value due to their virtual nature. However, this could change as the select committee heard evidence last year that loot box winnings can be exchanged for cash on third-party reseller websites, as well as the fact that game developers can and do profit from the temptation of a loot box. 

Welsh Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who currently chairs a cross-party group of MPs investigating the harm related to gambling described loot boxes as "a virtually speculative commodity that only help to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance." 

Last year, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recommended that loot boxes should be regulated under the Gambling Act and this seems like the next step towards things changing within the games industry.

It's still relatively early days yet given how long it takes to change legislation but if ministers do choose to reclassify loot boxes, it's likely to mean that games that include such items will need to be reclassified as an 18 certificate - something that many publishers may not be happy with. Alternatively, and presumably the preferred option, they could remove loot boxes altogether. 

Loot boxes are already considered gambling products in other countries such as Belgium, and there's growing concern that children are spending too much money on the consumable. But what about adults that like to be tempted once in a while? Time will tell on this one as to what the plan could be. 

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