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Should Loot Boxes in Games Be Considered Gambling?

One of the banes of gamers’ existence are loot boxes. These in-game items that turned players against gaming companies and the latter receiving a good chunk of money every year.

In recent reports, it is said that loot boxes might be considered as gambling and therefore must be regulated. We will get to that in a minute. Now, let’s go over what are loot boxes in general?

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes are quite similar to surprise packages such as sports cards or Kinder eggs even. Players pay a small amount (of in-game currency or real money) for a chance to win randomly selected (rare or non-rare) in-game items (like skins, abilities, armor, etc.)

Sometimes prizes can be a bit disappointing because it’s a matter of luck, honestly, to get a random good item.

Why are loot boxes receiving so much of hate?

The most annoying thing is that some loot boxes really do have exclusive items that cannot be found in the game like in Counter Strike: Global Offensive, where loot boxes contain mostly cosmetic items. Some games choose to fool the players by putting items in the boxes that become available in the game sometime after that. This devalues the purpose of loot boxes and makes them useless within the game.

Another issue about such games is that they make players buy the in-game currency with real money. This is quite similar to gambling, since players feel the urge to win immediately and put in as much cash, as they can.

It is well-known that game publishers make the most money out of loot boxes and microtransactions (such are mostly seen in mobile games or bigger titles like the Call of Duty franchise, the last Assassin’s Creed titles, EA games products etc.)

Not all players make microtransactions but those who do that, spend enormous amounts for just a simple game.

Should be loot boxes regulated?

For all of those reasons, the House of Commons committee  in UK advises that game loot boxes must be regulated just like online casinos.

This commentary comes from the published report from the DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) committee on addicting technologies.

The committee thinks that such rewards cannot be regulated only, if they are earned for the purposes for in-game progress. When real money is used than it can be considered as a form of gambling under the Gambling Act 2005. It is true that the prizes within loot boxes don’t have a monetary value but they can be exchanged for real money.

The chair of the committee Damian Collins commented:

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”

A worrying survey from the Gambling Commission from two years ago found out that a mind blowing 31% of kids between 11 and 16 years old pay for loot boxes, it is not problem to find a gamer that spends about £1,000 a year on FIFA game in hunt to buy good players for his team.

The report went on to say that such features can trigger “…potent psychological mechanisms associated with […] gambling-like behaviours”.

While academics banter with the DCMS committee whether there are such effects on children, Belgium has already classified loot boxes as gambling. Gaming companies there are forced to take them off the market, since they don’t hold gambling licenses.

The DCMS minister Tom Watson commented that to him there needs to be better Gambling Act if games are going to be regulated.

The committee came with another suggestion that online games can be addressed the same way, because they can become a way for publishers to enforce age restrictions on their in-game sales.

The chief executive of Ukie (games industry body) Dr Jo Twist stated:

“We will review these recommendations with utmost seriousness and consult with the industry on how we demonstrate further our commitment to player safety – especially concerning minors and vulnerable people.”

The report touches on how social medias like Snapchat and Facebook encourage teen’s somewhat compulsive behavior with features like public “likes” counting or Snapstreaks.

A quote from the Science Direct report expresses the lack of information on the matter from the gaming companies themselves:

“Having struggled to get clear answers and useful information from companies across the games industry in particular, we hope that our inquiry and this report serve to focus all in the industry – particularly large, multinational companies whose games are played all over the world – on their responsibilities to protect their players from potential harms and to observe the relevant legal and regulatory frameworks in all countries their products reach.”

Conclusion

Considering microtransactions from a user experience point, they come and go in really sneaky ways for players to get hooked. Some games offers monthly free loot boxes spins, which can be compared to casino free spins, where gamer can enjoy the satisfaction of opening a box without paying for it, however should player want to open more, he has to pay. There is definitely a point of considering such actions as gambling because when “seasonal events” are happening in games, you are constantly pressured to earn all items associated with those events. You spend one dollar on some in-game coins, then another two dollars and somehow you can build up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the game, for which user already paid full price. It is a scary feature and should not be take lightly by the authorities, as it resembles sports betting or any type of online casino game.

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