UK Lawmaker Opens Inquiry into Loot Boxes in Video Games

Posted on: October 16, 2017, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: October 16, 2017, 02:46h.

A member of parliament in the United Kingdom has opened an inquiry into the practice of including “loot boxes” in video games, further intensifying the growing scrutiny over whether these transactions need to be regulated as gambling.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is one of the latest games to spark outrage due to the inclusion of loot boxes that players can purchase. (Image:

Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, who represents Cambridge, submitted two questions to Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. The first asked the secretary what she planned to do to “help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.”

The second question takes an interesting look at laws that are in place on the Isle of Man. It asks the secretary about “the effectiveness of the Isle of Man’s enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes,” while also asking if the government has considered implementing those restrictions throughout the UK in order to protect players.

Pay to Win

Loot boxes are digital products in console and computer games that may be purchased by players with real money, typically for the chance to receive special items or other perks that are difficult (or even impossible) to obtain otherwise.

However, players don’t know what they’ll get until they pay for and open the box, a gambling-like mechanic that has angered many gamers.

While these mechanics have been a part of free-to-play mobile games for many years, they have recently become highly prominent in high-priced console titles as well.

Recent inclusions of loot boxes in games such as Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 have brought the issue into the spotlight, capturing the attention not only of gamers, but also of regulators.

Constituent Meeting Leads to Official Inquiry

Zeichner’s inquiry was made on behalf of one of his constituents, who wrote on Reddit that he met with the MP about the topic. Under the username Artfunkel, the individual said that they would like to see the UK’s gambling regulations applied to loot boxes.

“The Isle of Man is a British territory which explicitly defines in-game items as money’s worth in its gambling law,” Artfunkel wrote. “It’s currently the only place in the world that does so.”

While players have long complained about the nature of loot boxes, it is only recently that the question of whether they constitute gambling has been debated at a high level. The practice is regulated in some countries: in Japan and China, players can know the odds of receiving various levels of rewards for opening a box before they buy one with cash or in-game currency.

However, other regulators have actively resisted classifying these systems as gambling. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has said they have no plans to consider loot boxes gambling when it comes to the ratings they place on game packaging.

“We think of it as a similar principle to collectable card games,” an ESRB spokesperson told Kotaku. “Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”