The UK's DCMS - Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport - could soon reclassify loot boxes in video games as gambling. UK news platform The Guardian reports that the DCMS will soon launch a call for evidence into the divisive gaming feature. If said evidence mounts, it's likely that loot boxes will be subject to more strict restrictions in the UK.
This news comes after a number of prominent figures in the UK have voiced concerns regarding the ethics of loot boxes. As it stands, loot boxes in the UK aren't classed as gambling, which means they can be included in video games intended for sale to those under the age of 18. If the reclassification happens, however, developers will need to either change the age rating for games that include loot boxes or remove them from sale. Estimates suggest that the loot box economy is worth around £700 million in the UK, so this would be a heavy blow for publishers in that region.
What's the argument that loot boxes constitute gambling?
Labour MP Carolyn Harris chairs a cross-party group of MPs whose job is to investigate harm caused by gambling. Harris says that loot boxes are a "virtually speculative commodity" that help to normalize and encourage young gamers to "take a chance". This, says Harris, will all too often lead to young people developing gambling addictions. This argument is key to the idea of reclassifying loot boxes as gambling. Right now, since the items in loot boxes aren't considered to have any monetary value, they have not been classified as gambling. However, in a report last year, DCMS pointed out that "real-world trading" - in which virtual items are "cashed out" for real-world value - is common among games that offer loot box functionality.
The opposition to unregulated loot boxes mounts around the world. Earlier this year, the Australian government recommended that restrictions should be introduced to prevent minors from purchasing boxes in-game. Similar opposition has been voiced by authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands, among other places. It's hard to see how this could end well for the concept of unregulated loot boxes in gaming. We'll bring you more on this story as we get it.
How would you feel if loot boxes in UK gaming - as well as in the wider world - were subject to stricter regulations? Let us know in the comments below!