The lootbox debate – UK House of Lords’ sudden cry for action
The loot box debate isn’t a new one, not at all – they have been in debate at least in Europe for years. Considered a form of gambling by some, but not everyone, the debate of whether or not they should be banned or restricted for younger gamers has been running hot for some time.
Late to the party
The UK, it seems, is a little late to the legislation party – a committee in the house of lords just decided that they should be classified as games of chance, which would bring them under a gambling act that was signed off in 2005.
The whole ‘loot boxes are bad’ debate has already led to some restrictions in other places – Belgium banned the mechanic altogether while rating systems like Pegi promised a stricter and more clear warning label structure so parents could recognise the games on sight.
The report issued by the house of lords covers a wide variety of topics, but focuses in part on gambling-related issues featuring kids: In other words, games that are teaching kids to gamble. While they rightfully state that children should be protected from disguised gambling, the report was met with some ridicule, simply because of how late it is.
The debate over loot boxes has been going on for years, so the discoveries in there are, for the most part, nothing new. What is worth mentioning is that the UK-report points out that no new laws need to be passed for a majority of the problems they found – due to existing laws on the matter, and solutions that don’t require legislation.
In other words, though late to the loot box debate, the report is setting the scene for some quick action. The report itself is based on solid science. Academic research and subject matter experts see a very solid connection between gambling problems and loot box spending.
A risk to the young
The report also mentioned that in the UK alone, some 55.000 people with a gambling problem are between the ages of 11 and 16 – a terrifying number. In addition to loot boxes, the gaming and esports industry also plays host to other forms of gambling – most notably, esports betting (and more specifically UK esports betting) . While nobody is disguising betting on events as anything but, one argument from developers is that their loot boxes shouldn’t count as gaming – in the case of a rather unfortunate statement from EA, they referred to their loot boxes amidst their original loot box scandal as ‘surprise mechanics’.
Needless to say, most people weren’t particularly impressed, and soon after, a harsher approach to the game mechanic was taken. Despite this, in most countries, they remain largely unregulated. Some providers have been forced to reveal the exact odds of winning what’s in the boxes – for example, showing what percentage of buyers would receive particularly rare items from the boxes, and so on.
Revealing these odds had some effects as well – many fans were shocked by just how ‘rigged’ the boxes were against them, with chances for precious loot often well below 1% – in other words, almost impossible, and designed to keep players spending more and more and more.