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Video Game Loot Boxes Branded “Manipulative” By New Report

futuristic loot box game featureThere is a lot happening in the world of UK gambling, it seems. Apart from the constant concerns over the release of a white paper surrounding new gambling laws, and details of this supposedly changing to make it less intense, specific areas have also been under the spotlight. This includes the controversial topic of loot boxes in video games, which have become the centre of attention in various countries over the years. The United Kingdom has previously allowed them without much cause for concern, but there could be new fears relating to their incorporation into games.

A new report has branded the boxes “manipulative”, with consumer groups across 18 countries backing it. Because the contents of these loot boxes are only revealed either through continued gameplay or by making a payment, they have been labelled as an alternate form of gambling by many. Some of the boxes contain useful tools for players to proceed with their gaming or introduce extra perks which help to enhance the overall gaming experience. Yet others are completely worthless. By the time that is discovered though, a payment has already been made by the player.

The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), the authors responsible for the report on the loot boxes, say that gamers are therefore being manipulated into spending large amounts of money just to find out what is inside these chests.

kinder eggsWhen questioned on the loot boxes in 2019, popular developer EA Games associated loot boxes with other enjoyable children’s toys. It said that they are simply like Kinder Surprise eggs, rather than being anything like gambling.

Yet with the introduction of this new report from the NCC, could it be time for more measures to be taken against video game loot boxes? Various other legislation has been brought into effect across the UK, such as the banning of bonus buy and auto play slot machine games. Maybe loot boxes in video games are next in line to be restricted?

Loot Boxes Linked to Problem Gambling

loot box example

In the past, loot boxes have been marked as one of the reasons why problem gambling is reaching peak levels in the UK. Studies done in 2021 said that the video game features used by around 40% of children, have clear links to gambling issues, and this reignited calls for them to be regulated as gambling products. In total, 13 studies were done into gamer behaviour on those people who spend money on the boxes, and the results of all but one showed clear correlation with gambling activity.

Finn Myrstad, who is the Director of Digital Policy at NCC, spoke of both the “sale and presentation of loot boxes” as being highly exploitative to players. He went on to state that “predatory mechanisms” were utilised by developers, which foster addiction and target those who are vulnerable.

The 20 consumer groups that have backed the NCC report are now calling for their governments to take action against loot boxes, regulating them for the industry. One of the groups is the European Consumer Organisation, and this represents players across the European continent, including the UK.

Within the report, it is highlighted that some of the loot boxes specifically target children, who are often unaware of the need to spend large volumes of money to acquire the best outcomes from the chests.

Belgium Bans Loot Boxes

loot box clampdownWhile some countries have been back and forth over whether or not to ban loot boxes or regulate them, Belgium took effective action back in 2018. The country’s Gaming Commission said that the chests were in violation of its gambling legislation. As a result, the virtual currency utilised in the FIFA football game series was dropped in Belgium, meaning that loot boxes can now only be earned by playing in the Ultimate Team mode of the video game.

It didn’t take long for a couple of other countries to follow suit, with the Netherlands proceeding to ban loot boxes in 2019. EA Games was hit with a €10 million (£8.5 million) fine by the Dutch gambling regulator due to the decision as well. As it happens, that penalty was overturned in March of 2022, when it was discovered that EA had not actually broken Dutch law.

It was also in 2019 that the maker of the popular Fortnite game, Epic Games, introduced a function that allowed players to see into loot boxes before deciding whether or not to purchase them. This made the boxes less like gambling.

That year also saw a big story hit when four children were discovered to have spent £550 in a three-week period after buying player packs for the FIFA football game via the Nintendo Switch console. The father of the four, Thomas Carter, had proceeded with buying them a single pack for about £8, but didn’t realise that they had watched him make the purchase. This led to the kids utilising the bank account details for further purchases, and their parents only realised what had happened when their card was declined elsewhere. Effectively, the children had emptied out their parents’ account by buying player packs and so on.

A Lot To Sort Out

loot box cartoon concept

The gambling industry has been rife with issues in recent times, which will all need resolving before anyone can proceed. Other than the scenario surrounding loot boxes in video games, it was also recently announced that The National Lottery could end up being suspended while ownership complaints are being resolved. Current licence-holder Camelot has challenged the decision of the Gambling Commission to award the new licence to Czech-owned brand Allwyn, and the High Court will need to make a decision upon whether the competition held for this licence was fair and just.

Apart from that, it was also noted earlier on that plans to restructure the UK Gambling Act 2005 so that it introduces stricter measures are being watered down. While the original plan was to restrict football clubs from being sponsored by betting companies and casinos, it is now thought that this will no longer be the case. Instead, the government aims to work out a plan where sponsorship can continue taking place, but where the firms’ logos cannot be emblazoned on the kits. A “polluter pays” mandatory levy on betting firms for funding addiction research is another proposal that is said to be a victim of the watering down in the new white paper.

Now, with the re-highlighting of gambling addiction being associated with video game loot boxes, there is a lot for the government and Gambling Commission to resolve in terms of the industry.

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