An online discussion has prompted one U.K. lawmaker to question whether or not loot boxes should be considered gambling. Over the past few years, several triple-A games have included various forms of loot boxes - a virtual crate that provides players with in-game items or currency when opened. While the general concept of opening boxes to obtain random items isn't all too concerning, especially when the boxes are randomly supplied, what's troubling is that games nowadays allow for players to purchase those loot boxes using real money.
Traditionally, players progress through games naturally - by playing the game - but when progression, or at least the ability to compete competently with other players, requires the opening of loot boxes, then the crates interrupt the normal progression system and alienate less affluent players. The worst culprits are triple-A titles that allow people to obtain significantly stronger items/athletes via loot boxes using real money. And the fact that in-game currency doesn't properly equate to actual money is unethical. For instance, a few dollars may grant users thousands of in-game credits to use; it's disproportionate and, albeit, a bit deceitful. And now, these loot boxes have caught the attention of lawmakers around the world.
A recent discussion on Reddit prompted Daniel Zeichner, a U.K. Labour MP of Cambridge, to formally question Karen Bradley, the incumbent Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, about what steps she plans on taking to "protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling, and loot boxes within computer games." The U.K.'s Gambling Commission had released an official paper earlier this year that describes what tools constitute as gambling in video games; Zeichner wants to know if loot boxes would fall under those pre-existing descriptions.
The lawmaker's question comes on the heels of the U.S.'s ESRB also addressing the issue. The ESRB's decision on loot boxes hinged entirely upon the option players have not to open loot boxes since they can still play the game without having to spend in-game currency (or real money), which they deem as Simulated Gambling, not Real Gambling. However, judging by the open beta for Star Wars Battlefront II, the industry is clearly progressing towards a standard in which loot boxes play an integral role in a game's progression, even if it isn't the primary mode of leveling/obtaining new items.
What's more, the ESRB - a self-regulatory organization originally formed by major publishers in the '90s - states that any game containing Real Gambling would automatically be rated Adults-Only, and no big-box retailer (e.g. Gamestop, Best Buy) would sell those games; therefore, labeling loot boxes as Real Gambling would effectively destroy publishers. Whereas the U.S. association has failed to properly address the issue, hopefully, the U.K. commission takes a tougher stance on the industry; addressing the issue is only the first step.