The controversial issue of loot boxes in video games and their potential link to gambling has been raised again, as a government department is set to launch an enquiry.
The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is set to launch a call for evidence to be provided on the issue, and there is considerable speculation that they are considering having the feature reclassified as a gambling product.
Loot boxes have proven to be a topic of considerable controversy among politicians and the media in recent years. A number of organisations have raised concerns over whether this aspect of some video games represents an incitement to children and younger audiences to start gambling.
Loot boxes are a feature that are embedded within some games, usually containing randomised rewards, with players uncertain what reward they are going to receive when they make their purchase. The rewards can range from cosmetic extra, such as ‘skins’ that can change the appearance or attributes of an in-game character, and in some cases, they can provide users with an advantage during gameplay.
Of particular concern to some campaigners and politicians is the fact that this video game feature is currently outside of the UK’s existing gambling legislation. This is due to the lack of monetary value that is associated with the items that are won with loot boxes. The nature of loot boxes effectively blurs the distinction between gambling and gaming.
But some figures are clear about what they see as the dangers of loot boxes. Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who leads a cross-party Committee of MPs who are investigating gambling harm, says that the practice of offering loot boxes effectively promotes gambling among the young:
“They are a virtually speculative commodity that only help to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance. All too often this will lead to youngsters developing an addiction to gambling.”
In September last year, the DCMS called for the introduction of new restrictions on offering loot boxes to players aged under 18. In a report that investigated what it described as ‘addictive and immersive technologies’, DCMS suggested that online games should attract the same levels of age restriction as with physical sales of gambling products, in order to protect users. They also suggested that the gaming sector should contribute to independent research into gaming’s long term effects. Now, it is believed they are to seek further evidence, with speculation rife that legislation on the issue of loot boxes could be forthcoming.
Such new laws would be welcomed by a number of campaigning groups, including the Royal Society for Public Health, which has previously urged the UK government to classify loot boxes as gambling.