The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is to launch a call for evidence on the use of ‘loot boxes’ within videogames.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Loot boxes are a type of downloadable content used across many videogames, where the contents of a virtual treasure chest (loot box) are unknown. They can include multiple common, low cost, items, but there’s a chance for rare, expensive and unique items, which can encourge multiple purchases.
While many free-to-play games utilise loot boxes as a primary business model, a growing number of premium games (i.e. those you pay for up front) have started to include loot boxes.
No Monetary Value
Although loot boxes use a chance mechanic, they are not covered by current gambling legislation and are not regulated by the Gambling Commission, primarily because the items won were not considered to have any ‘real’ monetary value.
However, there are a wide range of third party sites where players can exchange loot box content for cash. Evidence given to the DCMS select committee stated that their use by game developers was likely to “facilitate profiting from problem gamblers”.
Loot boxes are already deemed gambling products in several countries, including Belgium, where some companies have had to remove their games from the market.
Huge Growth on Steam
The Guardian reports that research from the University of York in 2019 found that the use of loot boxes is increasing. The business model was used inapproximately 71% of the most popular titles on Steam, compared with 4% in the decade before.
Should the DCMS decide to classify loot boxes as gambling, it would have a significant impact on a wide range of games. Many of which could be removed from sale, or require extensive redesign to allow them to be sold to people under 18.
The department has now confirmed that it will be asking the industry for further evidence in the near future. In a statement released yesterday (08/06/2020), the DCMS said it will:
launch a call for evidence into the impact of loot boxes on in-game spending and gambling-like behaviour later this year.
To put this in context, the value of loot boxes to the video games industry has been estimated at £23bn a year and rising, thanks to revenues that keep rolling in even after the initial purchase of the game.
What Loot Boxes…??!
In an earlier investigation into the topic, MPs were left frustrated by the reponse of industry representatives, who denied loot boxes had any sort of negative potential, that they weren’t used to make money and in fact there’s no such thing as the games industry…
Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, said:
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen more people than ever before turn to video games and immersive technology to keep them entertained and to stay in touch with friends and family.
These innovations can present challenges though as well as opportunities, which is why we are taking the necessary steps to protect users and promote the safe enjoyment of this dynamic industry.
According to the DCMS statement, “the call for evidence on loot boxes will examine links to gambling-like behaviour and excessive spending in games. The findings will provide a solid foundation for future steps and will be considered alongside a review of the Gambling Act.
“In addition to the call for evidence, the government will contribute to further research in this area. DCMS will set a framework for a programme of research into the impact of video games on behaviour, informed by workshops with academia and industry.”
Time to Stop The Looting?
It may be time for the games industry as a whole to start looking seriously at the use of loot boxes, examples of good practice and bad, and try to take some responsibility, before the legislators of the world take that decision away from them.