Video game loot boxes could soon be reclassified as gambling products in the UK, meaning they could no longer be sold to under 18s in their current form.
The add-ons, which require gamers to hand over cash for unspecified bonus items such as characters, clothing and weapons, are being investigated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The government is concerned the prevalence of loot boxes could be training children to gamble and is now calling for evidence on the matter.
MP Carolyn Harris, who is chairing a cross-party committee on the matter said: “They are a virtually speculative commodity that only help to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance. All too often this will lead to youngsters developing an addiction to gambling.”
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Loot boxes are particularly prevalent in games like EA Sports celebrated football simulation franchise FIFA. In the latest release, FIFA 20, loot boxes come in the form of Ultimate Team packs. Gamers spend money on the micro-transactions that enable them to add players to their Ultimate Team. However, gamers don’t know which players they are receiving when they hand over the cash.
In 2018 EA Sports made around £850 million from Ultimate Team micro transactions within games it had already sold to consumers, so it represents a major source of income for the company (via DreamTeamFC).
EA might be the most high profile, but certainly isn’t the only publisher to place a focus on loot boxes. Today’s Guardian report points out that 71% of games available on Steam have loot boxes available compared with just 4% ten years ago.
If legislation is passed in the UK, it would require games publishers to alter loot boxes significantly in order to continue selling them. One would suspect they’d have to reveal all items within the micro-transaction.
MP’s have been trying to ban lot boxes since last summer after a report published by DCMS said: “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.”