Loot boxes could be classified as gambling by UK government

Loot boxes could end up being classified as gambling by the UK government, which is requesting evidence either way.

The argument over loot boxes, and whether they count as gambling, has raged for several years now, with some countries like Belgium rendering them illegal.

But those within the gaming industry have defended their inclusion, with an EA representative infamously comparing them to Kinder Eggs and calling them ’surprise mechanics’.

The UK government has investigated loot boxes before, and decided they did not count as gambling, but that position could be changing.

According to a report from The Guardian, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be requesting evidence that proves loot boxes can be considered gambling, following growing concerns that such mechanics are causing children to develop addictions or encouraging them to take up traditional gambling.

In 2017, the government stated that loot boxes couldn’t be classified as gambling as they didn’t involve any sort of monetary exchange, though several third party websites do allow players to sell the content from loot boxes to each other.

‘They are a virtually speculative commodity that only help to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance,’ said Carolyn Harris, Labour MP, ‘All too often this will lead to youngsters developing an addiction to gambling.’

Harris currently presides over a cross-party group of MPs, which investigates gambling-related harm, and her statements match up with a 2018 study, which showed that up to a million people between the ages of 11 and 16 had taken up gambling due to their exposure to loot boxes.

It should be noted that the gaming industry itself has been taking further precautions regarding loot boxes.

Both the European ratings board, Pan European Game Information (PEGI), and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) have introduced new ratings that specifically mention when games contain in-game purchases such as loot boxes.

Last year, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft also committed to a new initiative that requires all publishers to disclose the odds of receiving in-game items from loot boxes, card packs, and the like.

‘The video game industry relies on creating and sustaining relationships with our players based on fun, but just as importantly on trust,’ said the ESA at the time.

Should loot boxes ultimately be classified as gambling by the government, it would require developers and publishers to fundamentally redesign their games so that they can be sold to minors or remove them from store fronts entirely.

This has already happened in Belgium and the Netherlands but the UK would be the biggest market yet to rule against loot boxes, which could have a permanent effect on game design in the future – especially for EA’s FIFA series.

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