Loot boxes have been the topic of much heated debate for the last few years. As more people become aware of the blind-bag nature of these in-game items, more are pushing for actual legislation to enforce limits on their use. In Belgium, authorities have even sought to make loot boxes illegal and banned altogether. And members of the United Kingdom's parliament are trying to follow suit with calls to label loot boxes as gambling, effectively banning them from games popular with kids.
This comes as the result of findings from the parliamentary committee of the UK's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The committee had been undergoing a widespread inquiry into the psychological effects of games and social media on their users, as well as how the companies that run these platforms have contributed to these effects.
While the committee notes that most gamers have positive experiences gaming, its chief concern was with the minority of people, often young people, who get hooked on games and are compelled to spend up to thousands of dollars on microtransactions, including loot boxes. Since gaming addiction will soon be recognized as a legitimate disease by the World Health Organization, the committee feels game companies have a responsibility to address this in how they utilize in-game purchases.
"Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products… It's time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers."
Apparently, game companies feel otherwise, as the committee said industry representatives were "willfully obtuse" in providing consumer data that could reinforce its findings. In spite of that, the DCMS's representatives believe there is enough evidence of the negative effects of loot boxes that the mechanic should be classified as a game of chance and therefore regulated by the UK Gambling Act. While not banning them outright, it could go a long way in mitigating the damage to peoples' wallets.
Not everyone in the UK’s parliament agrees. Earlier this summer, Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, went on record dismissing the notion of loot boxes being gambling. Strangely, though, she did acknowledge at the same time that loot boxes could be a strong lure for young people who have "a propensity to gamble."