Spain’s Minister of Consumer Affairs Slams Gaming Industry Before Leaving

Posted on: August 4, 2023, 08:20h. 

Last updated on: August 4, 2023, 09:55h.

Alberto Garzón, the head of Spain’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs, has maintained an attack on several industries since taking office four years ago, including gambling and video game loot boxes. Although he’s already announced his departure from the government this year, Garzón isn’t going to exit without at least one more dig.

Spanish Minister of Consumption Alberto Garzon in a press conference
Spanish Minister of Consumer Affairs Alberto Garzon in a press conference. Garzon is stepping down from his position, but not before trying to assert his opinion on the gambling ecosystem one last time. (Image: El Mundo)

Garzon has just put out to tender what could be the Ministry’s last advertising campaign. He’s decided to spend almost €250K (US$273,625) of taxpayer funds to take another jab at video game loot boxes.

These have been the focus of the government agency in recent years, and are characterized by giving access to a possible benefit within the game. In many cases, the gamer doesn’t know what they will be given until after receiving the loot box. As a result, loot boxes have come under increased scrutiny because of the belief that this constitutes a form of gambling, and Garzón is in that camp.

Loot Boxes – the Gateway Drug

The main concern that loot boxes or random reward mechanisms arouse, in the minds of those opposed to them, is that they can generate addiction. They argue that they serve as a door that introduces minors to other games of chance, such as sports betting.

These in-game mechanisms are widespread in the video game industry, especially in titles with a high multiplayer component. Slightly more than half of the games available on mobile phones and 35% of the most important computer games contain loot boxes, according to the Ministry.

Along the same lines, the department points out that, in Spain, almost 30% of minors between ages 11 and 17 take advantage of loot boxes or other in-game mechanics, such as FIFA Ultimate Team player packs. It asserts that an early start in the participation of games of chance is a powerful predictor of the severity and/or affectation of a possible and future gambling problem.

That’s despite no concrete evidence to support the theory. Frontiers in Psychology published an article last year that states, “[Loot box] use is associated with problem gambling in youth, but few studies have been conducted on the association between [loot box] use and gambling behavior considering adolescents. Thus, the mechanisms underlying this relationship are not clear.”

Nonetheless, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is going to spend the money on anti-loot box awareness promotions. The campaign must develop a strategy for the launch of advertising content for TV, social networks, and online radio, as well as devise actions and images also designed by the winning bidder.

Final Countdown

The objective of the Ministry is to “inform without alarm about what [loot boxes] are.” It also wants to “demonstrate the types of behaviors the use of random reward mechanisms or loot boxes can provoke in experienced and novice gamers,” according to its announcement.

This action isn’t the first the government has carried out to try to put an end to this practice. Last year, the government agency presented a bill to regulate these rewards. The proposal banned advertising between 1-5 a.m. and prohibited minors from acquiring loot boxes. However, it never received legislative approval.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be revisited. The rejection of the measure carried an asterisk that would allow it to be revived in the future. That will depend on what’s coming to Spain’s government.

The country is undergoing a shift in its political environment right now, which could see fundamental changes arrive by the end of this year. Garzón’s decision to leave may foreshadow a larger shift, with rumors circulating that the government may completely disband the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.