Changing the Game: How Governments are Clamping Down on Loot Boxes
Have you ever bought a loot box?
If the answer is “yes”, then your most recent purchase may end up being your last depending on where you are.
Several governments are in the process of banning or heavily restricting loot boxes following pressure from safe gambling experts. Some have even labelled this type of in-game content as “gambling for kids”, suggesting that they get youngsters hooked on betting from an early age.
The new legislation from the likes of the UK and the Netherlands may help consign loot boxes to the dustbin in a new gaming era that focuses on guiding players away from addictive behavior.
What are loot boxes?
If you play games regularly, then you probably already know exactly what a loot box is, but let’s recap just in case.
Loot boxes are in-game purchases where players spend real money to receive random digital items, such as characters, outfits, or experience points. The contents of each box are unknown to the player before purchase, so they are effectively risking getting nothing (or very little) for their money.
Experts are concerned about how the boxes resemble gambling mechanics. After all, it’s a little like betting on an online casino game: you enter your stake with the very real risk of losing it.
In a bid to combat the effects of addictive behavior, some sites now allow players to play online casino games for free as it gives them the excitement of playing without risking money.
There’s now pressure on the gaming industry to also take action, by restricting loot boxes or removing them altogether.
The UK’s 11-point plan
The UK games industry has introduced an 11-point plan to address concerns about loot boxes, aiming to protect players, especially children, and promote responsible play.
The plan includes introducing technological controls to restrict access for children, launching a public information campaign, and disclosing the presence of loot boxes. When the boxes do appear they will display clear winning probabilities and will encourage responsible purchasing through lenient refund policies.
The UK government’s approach has been to encourage self-regulation within the industry, and the move comes after three years of deliberation. With the estimated revenue from loot boxes thought to be around $15 billion, there’s a heightened need to address the issue responsibly.
As one of the world’s leading regulators, the UK games industry’s actions set a standard for player protection as other countries grapple with the issue.
Tougher action in other European countries
Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria have taken even tougher action. Going further than the UK’s self-regulatory approach, these countries have already implemented strict restrictions on loot boxes.
Belgium and the Netherlands have gone so far as to completely ban loot boxes, viewing them as a gateway to gambling addiction. They have taken a proactive stance in protecting players, especially children, from the potential harm associated with these in-game purchases. The bans reflect their commitment to prioritizing player welfare and responsible play over the financial impact of loot boxes.
Similarly, Austria has introduced severe measures. While not a complete ban, Austria now has stricter consumer rules for digital coins and loot boxes, particularly focusing on protecting children from excessive spending and potential harm.
While the UK games industry’s 11-point plan is a positive step towards player protection, the actions of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria prove that countries are willing to set outright bans if they feel that loot box spending is getting out of hand.
An uncertain future
As more and more countries consider action against paid-for gaming rewards, the future of loot boxes is likely to be shaped by a combination of several factors: increased regulation, industry self-regulation, and public awareness.
Other nations may follow the likes of Belgium and Netherlands by introducing similar restrictions to protect players from potential harm.
As the debate continues and more research is conducted on loot boxes’ impact, additional regulations and guidelines may appear to ensure a safer gaming environment. It could lead to game developers taking a more responsible and transparent approach, with a focus on safeguarding players’ mental well-being and financial security.
On the other hand, there are players who do not support a loot box ban, particularly those who enjoy the thrill of opening loot boxes and collecting rare in-game items. For some, loot boxes add an element of excitement and surprise to the gaming experience.
The gaming industry has its supporters who argue that loot boxes are a legitimate revenue stream that helps fund ongoing game development and updates. They say that banning loot boxes could have financial implications for game developers and potentially lead to a shift in how games are monetized.
Whatever happens, the next few months are set to be crucial to the very existence of one of gaming’s most controversial features.