Loot Box Video Games Should Be 18+ and Regulated Like Gambling Industry, Says UK Parliamentary Committee

Posted on: September 13, 2019, 07:24h. 

Last updated on: September 13, 2019, 01:00h.

A UK Parliamentary committee says loot boxes in video games should be banned for children, and publishers should be forced to employ age-verification technology like the gambling industry. Meanwhile, the games should be overseen and regulated by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).

Loot boxes
Conservative MP Damian Collins of the DCMS is challenging the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the UK gambling law. (Image: Simon Dawson/Getty)

A parliamentary committee investigation into addiction and immersive technology concluded this week that “buying a loot box is playing a game of chance, and it is high time the gambling laws caught up.”

In video games, a loot box is a virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection “loot,” ranging from customization options for a player’s avatar or character to equipment such as weapons and armor.

The UKGC previously said that while it had “significant concerns” about loot boxes, they could not be considered gambling under current law because they do not offer the chance to win anything of monetary value.

The regulator was “constrained by the current legislation,” but it would be prepared to regulate loot boxes if the law were changed, it said.

Gaming Disorder is Real

The committee of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is proposing exactly that. Committee chairman and Conservative MP Damian Collins said he “challenge[s] the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”

“Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game-play has been recognized by the World Health Organization,” Collins said. “It’s time for game companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm,” he added.

Over the course of its months-long investigation, the committee heard from numerous representatives of the games industry, as well former players, including young adults who were thousands of pounds in debt from playing the games.

RuneScape publisher Jagex admitted to the committee that players could spend up to $1,000 a week on micro transactions within the game.

‘Wilfully Obtuse’

On the whole, the committee said the industry was reluctant to accept responsibility for its actions, or recognize that its games could promote dangerous overspending. Some industry representatives had been “wilfully obtuse” when answering questions – particularly about what data they collected, how it was used, and the psychological techniques employed to increase player engagement.

Industry trade body the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) told GamingBiz Thursday that it took the issues raised by the committee seriously, but “strongly disagreed” with its findings.

“As demonstrated by the recent announcement of policies regarding the disclosure of the relative rarity or probability of obtaining virtual items in paid loot boxes, as well as the robust parental controls that empower parents to control in-game purchases, the video game industry is a leader in partnering with parents and players to create enjoyable video game experiences,” it said.

“In addition, numerous regulatory bodies around the world, including those in Australia, France, Ireland, Germany, and the UK, have come to a conclusion starkly different than that of this committee,” it added.