The UK government has called on companies to tighten controls on loot boxes, or face legislation that does so. The statement was prompted by the conclusion of a 2020 call for evidence into the matter by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. It found that loot boxes were linked to problem gambling, mental health issues, financial problems, and video game addiction.
The press release goes on to cite Xbox’s option to require parental permission for in-game microtransactions as an example of steps for companies to take to protect children. It also suggested making the mechanics of loot boxes more transparent. This might mean disclosing contents and probabilities to players before purchase, as is required in China.
The UK isn’t the first government to take aim at the feature. Notably, Belgium banned loot boxes in 2018. The move came after it ruled that loot boxes in games like FIFA, Overwatch, and Apex Legends were akin to gambling. The ban was widely popular with gamers, even those who regularly bought them.
We’re asking video games companies to step up and improve protections for children and players of all ages, including through loot box spending, to help keep them #SafeOnline
— DCMS (@DCMS) July 17, 2022
However, some critics have argued that the government’s considerations don’t go far enough. Speaking to BBC News, James Close from the University of Plymouth suggested the link between loot boxes and problem-gambling means they should be regulated as such. So far, the UK government refuses to make the connection as there are no real monetary rewards. Dr Close’s research found loot boxes “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.” He argues it’s especially the case when items can be sold for real-world cash in secondary markets. It seems some don’t trust the video games industry to self-regulate, and would rather see legislation as a default instead of a last resort.