The UK government is leaving it up to the gaming industry to sort out the loot boxes controversy, but ‘won’t hesitate’ to take action them if the efforts come up short.
The in-game purchase items, which offer various character upgrades or bonuses, have courted controversy because of the perceived similarity to gambling of platforms like EA Sports’ FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT).
Even though loot boxes can help gamers progress farther into the game (if they don’t want to earn the in-game currency by playing), players are mostly unaware of which items they will receive when they part with cash. That has raised alarm bells.
Following an investigation by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, the government is stopping short of a widely-tipped ban on loot boxes – as has happened in Holland and Belgium – and is instead giving gaming companies the chance to get their act together.
The government says the practice of selling loot boxes to children without parental consent must end. It is calling for the introduction of parental controls and greater availability of transparent information. If this doesn’t happen, legislation will follow.
“We want to stop children going on spending sprees online without parental consent, spurred on by in-game purchases like loot-boxes,” says the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
“Games companies and platforms need to do more to ensure that controls and age-restrictions are applied so that players are protected from the risk of gambling harms. Children should be free to enjoy gaming safely, whilst giving parents and guardians the peace of mind they need.”
The government study found players who had purchased the so-called loot boxes were “more likely to experience gambling, mental health, financial and problem gaming-related harms.” A report last month suggested gamers could spend up to £11,500 on FUT card packs in FIFA 22 in order to guarantee unlocking a ‘Team of the Year’ Kylian Mbappe card (via SportBible).