Loot Boxes Back on UK Agenda
by Glenn Baird - June 8, 2020
Loot boxes have been a source of controversy for some time now. Are they, or are they not gambling? It is a debate that has raged for a number of years and is unlikely to go away until the answer is yes.
In Belgium the discussion has already been laid to bed. As far as Belgians are concerned loot boxes are gambling. Despite spirit fights from the likes of Electronic Art, it is now next to impossible for gamers to experience the thrill of opening a loot box.
The definition of what gambling is always resurfaces when discussing loot boxes. In the UK gaming is defined as “Playing a playing a game of chance for a prize”. The term “prize” is then defined as money or something worth money. This is the point where the argument becomes heated. If there was no definition for the word “prize”, then loot boxes would be considered gaming in the UK. Things become even more blurry when you consider that in certain games you can pay for loot boxes (or whatever each game’s equivalent of them are). There are also games in which the content of loot boxes can be traded in online market places, which gives them a monitory value, albeit an indirect one.
However, many would argue that the focus of the discussion that I have described above is playing semantics. That the issues should not be focussed on grey areas like what constitutes a prize, but with the experience that loot boxes bring. That winning something that or may not turn out to be a benefit to you in a game created the same experience that winning money in a slot machine does. That the same chemicals are produced in the brain when the loot box opens and gives us what we do or do not want as are produced when our line comes in at the weekend.
Critics of loot boxes will argue that they normalise gambling and that the target audience are children and young adults who are exposed to the experience at an age when they are not equipped to deal with it. They argue that the experience can ignite the impulsivity of problem gambling at an age that sets young people up for a life battling this brutal addiction.
Allusions have been made between candy cigarettes and loot boxes. Whilst candy cigarettes are not actually illegal you will struggle to find them on the UK high street because we all agree that they are a bad idea. We all agree that anything aping smoking obtainable by young, impressionable people is a bad idea. Loot boxes can be compared to candy cigarettes because they ape gambling. When the prize being won is not actually money or something deemed not to have monetary value we can’t class it as gambling but we can say that mirrors it and that whilst the outcome might be different, the process is the same.
DCMS To Pursue Banning Loot Boxes
This week in the UK the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will raise the subject again. Concerns are more acute in the UK now that there is growing evidence to suggest that the contents of loot boxes can be traded for cash in online marketplaces. Whilst the “prize” factor is not necessarily the key argument held by critics of loot boxes it does appear to be the one that will need stick if their desire for change is to become a reality.
The DCMS select committee met last year and concluded that loot boxes should be considered gambling products:
“They are a virtually speculative commodity that only help to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance,” said the Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs a cross-party group of MPs investigating gambling-related harm.
“All too often this will lead to youngsters developing an addiction to gambling.”
Weekend tournaments are a huge deal within the FIFA community.
The difficulty that the DCMS are likely to encounter is that loot boxes are no longer a small addition in a few computer games. A recent report highlighted that 71% of the most popular gaming titles contain loot boxes or an equivalent of them.
Further to this is just how integral they are to certain games. FIFA is the primary example, with the entire game and your ability to beat your opponents hinging on the quality of the cards that you pull from your player packs.
Avid players, and there are millions of them, spend the week refining their teams so that they have the best possible chances to rank. Each week the players who have performed the best in their respective leagues are given stat boosts for the weekend. If you want to win you need those players and they only way to get them is in player packs that you will most likely need to spend money on.
EA will argue that their system keeps FIFA fresh and that fans of the game love it because their team can constantly grow and evolve. I doubt there are any fans of the game who would disagree but I also suspect there will be some who would appreciate not having that particularly weekly outlay. And cynics out there might also argue that EA’s motivation isn’t the entertainment of their clientele but the impact this would have on their profit margins.