Classifying Video Games: Should Loot Boxes be Regulated as a Form of Gambling?

The debate on whether video game loot boxes or crates should be classified as gambling or not continues. It’s been a subject that has been talked about for a while now and there are gaming companies that have already faced problems regarding this issue like Electronic Arts (EA).

EA has already taken a look at the terms and conditions regarding their popular FIFA game which is the Ultimate Team mode or FUT. This game, in particular, has been slammed as a form of gambling by several concerned people in Europe. Now, to placate the belligerent regulation, EA is reported to release a piece of code that will allow them to disable the FUT mode in certain geolocations to comply with gambling laws.

Why Loot Boxes Could be a Way of Gambling

Loot boxes are seen as a form of gambling by many gamers and people in the gaming industry. People are saying that purchasing loot boxes is similar to playing casino games like live and online poker games and slot machines. 

These types of video game crates or boxes are available in many popular games like FIFA, Fortnite, Call of Duty, League of Legends, and many more. These loot boxes can be purchased with real money for players to get a chance to get virtual weapons, items, or skins that they can use in their gameplays.

Dr. David Zendle, a lecturer in computer science at the University of York explains why loot boxes are a gateway to gambling. His work regarding this issue was submitted as written evidence to the committee in the UK regarding regulating this sort of gaming.

Dr. Zendle wrote, "Problem gambling is characterized by uncontrolled excessive spending on gambling. Loot boxes share many similarities with gambling. It, therefore, makes sense that this uncontrolled spending may transfer to loot boxes too."

The House of Lords Gambling Committee does say that video game loot boxes should indeed be regulated under existing gambling laws as they are classified as games of chance. According to them, "If a product looks like gambling and feels like gambling, it should be regulated as gambling. The government must act immediately to bring loot boxes within the remit of gambling legislation and regulation.”

Their report also mentioned what Dr. Zendle had to say about this activity and they concluded that ministers should create regulations that explicitly state how loot boxes are also games of chance. They are insisting that this issue requires more urgent attention.

Recent Survey and Campaign from the Gambling Health Alliance

The Gambling Health Alliance also published new findings regarding this activity. The alliance surveyed 611 young people in the United Kingdom and found that around 24 percent of them said that they felt addicted to opening loot boxes. 15 percent of the young gamers also admitted to taking money from their parents without any permission to but loot boxes. 

Three young gamers also admitted that their spending on these boxes has resulted in their families having to re-mortgage their homes. They also found that 9 percent of their respondents have borrowed money they couldn’t repay to spend on their video games.

Based on the survey they conducted, 91 percent of the respondents have said that these boxes should be classified as a form of gambling. With this, the Gambling Health Alliance is already calling for parents to be aware of this.

Duncan Stephenson, the Chair of the Gambling Health Alliance and the Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said, “We know that many teenagers unwrapped video games for Christmas, and while we know they give a huge amount of enjoyment for many, we are concerned that games containing loot boxes are having an impact on the finances of young people.  

“While this is a small survey of gamers, our research suggests that the drive to play games containing loot boxes is encouraging many to beg, borrow and steal – loot boxes are the gift that keeps on taking. 

“Aside from the financial cost, our latest survey with gamers suggests that the fixation with loot boxes can lead to classic symptoms of addiction including mood swings, problems sleeping, and impacting on their social life.

“We are calling for parents to be aware of the risks of loot boxes, and to boycott games with these predatory mechanics until we see them classified as a form of gambling and removed from games played by under 18s.”

Will it be Regulated?

While there are already countries that have banned loot boxes on video games like Belgium, likely, countries like the UK and the US will simply have this activity regulated. The Chinese government has already restricted the number of loot boxes that players can open each day and this is likely how things will be if the UK starts regulating this activity. 

It is hard to say that the purchasing of these boxes will be completely banned in the future. This is because there is still a big market for video game purchases. It could help countries generate revenues as this sector or the gaming industry is predicted to be worth over 200 billion US dollars by 2023.

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Last Updated: Jan 18, 2021