A petition regarding gaming’s current hot-button topic, loot boxes, submitted through the UK Parliament Petitions website has reached the 10,000 signatures needed for a government response. The petition, entitled ‘Adapt gambling laws to include gambling in video games which targets children,’ requests that the government revise gambling laws to include mechanics in games such as loot boxes. The response should come in three days time and the petition is open until the 4th April 2018, hoping to reach the 100,000 signatures needed to force a parliamentary debate on the issue.
The petition, originated by Connor Rhys Deeley, argues that in-game items like loot boxes are bought for virtual currency (often purchased with its real-world counterpart) and offer rewards whose value could be higher or lower than the price paid, making them analogous to gambling. It also suggests that developers use similar tactics to betting companies to create an addictive component to the in-game ‘gambling,’ putting children and vulnerable adults at risk. Deeley cites the recent Chinese ruling that developers must display the odds of winning when selling loot boxes in-game, comparing this to current UK gambling laws.
A petition like this doesn’t mean that the UK government must take any action, other than issue a basic response, but this is not the only angle from which they are facing questions. Labour MP for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, recently submitted written questions to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport on behalf of Reddit user Artfunkel, a Cambridge constituent. The questions both address the issues of loot boxes as gambling, illegal third-party gambling, and the protection of children and vulnerable adults, and both met with the same, fairly non-committal response.
The report cited in the Media Secretary’s response, from March this year, set out the position of the UK gaming commission on in-game item purchases and more. Section 3.17 of the report addressed loot boxes directly,
Away from the third party websites which are overtly gambling (offering betting, casinogames and lottery products) the ability to exchange in-game items for cash or trade on secondary markets also risks drawing elements within games themselves into gambling definitions. By way of example, one commonly used method for players to acquire in-game items is through the purchase of keys from the games publisher to unlock ‘crates’, ‘cases’or ‘bundles’ which contain an unknown quantity and value of in-game items as a prize. The payment of a stake (key) for the opportunity to win a prize (in-game items) determined (or presented as determined) at random bears a close resemblance, for instance, to the playing of a gaming machine. Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities.
Essentially saying the loot boxes are not gambling unless their rewards are readily exchangeable for currency. It remains to be seen if the position of the government or the UK gambling commission will change in light of the increased scrutiny on the practice.
This comes not long after the ESRB and PEGI rating boards stated that governments or gambling commissions needed to rule if they were gambling before they would take action.
Are loot boxes gambling? Can increased public pressure force a change in policy? Give us your thoughts in the comments!