An EU committee has called for changes to be made to the design and safeguards of video game loot boxes.
Over the last few years, there has been a long-standing debate about video game loot boxes and their ties to gambling. Loot boxes are mechanics which can be purchased by players with real money for special in-game rewards, but the items in each loot box are not known until purchased and opened.
As reported by FocusGN, a European Committee has called for new standards to be issued regarding the design of loot boxes and their safeguards. The committee’s suggestions come after the release of a study on loot boxes from the committee’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCP) committee.
The report, which has been described as the “most comprehensive” loot box investigation to date, analysed loot boxes and was launched after several EU states raised concerns that the mechanics were created in an attempt to “turn gamers into gamblers”.
The IMCP report, which can be found here, has analysed the type of content offered in loot boxes, whether the prizes carry in-game or real money value, the cost of loot boxes, how easily accessible the mechanics are, and the probability of obtaining certain items.
In its report, the IMCP concluded that while previous research has linked loot boxes to gambling, they found no connection. It reads: “Some research has found that problem gambling and paying for loot boxes are related. However, there is no consensus on a casual link between loot boxes and harmful behaviour.”
The study also claimed that not all loot boxes risk problematic behaviour but some designs are problematic as they can prolong gaming sessions and encourage players to spend money on loot boxes repeatedly, effecting gamers both financially and psychologically.
“Some reward structures and presentation features might mislead players regarding the likelihood of receiving valuable items and could promote addiction,” the report reads. It then states that this could be avoided by informing players about the presence of loot boxes in games before purchase and informing them about their probability of winning certain items.
The study also noted that there would be difficulty monitoring the standards of loot boxes across the EU and suggested that the EU avoids regulating loot boxes as a gambling mechanic but focus instead on consumer protection in which the EU maintains authority over its member states.
Suggestions included raising awareness regarding the risks of loot boxes, establishing refund policies on games with loot boxes, informing players about loot box probability, and potentially even introducing parental control services. However, the report doubts the effectiveness of these measures, particularly if they’re not enforced by the EU’s member states and their independent bodies.
There have been countless attempts to ban or modify loot box mechanics in countries throughout the EU, and most have failed. However, the Netherlands and Belgium banned loot boxes in April 2018, forcing game developers to pull the mechanic from their games or risk hefty fines.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the dozens of gambling and video game insiders, concerned parents and gamers as well as politicians have called for the regulation of loot boxes. However, the UK Gambling Commission announced last year that they cannot regulate loot boxes as they are not classed as gambling under current UK law.
More recently, the UK government announced a review of the Gambling Act 2005 and has said it will be focusing on issues regarding loot boxes. It also confirmed that it will soon launch a call for evidence on loot boxes to determine whether or not the mechanic should be classed as gambling.
Earlier this month, the House of Lords Gambling Committee published a report calling for loot boxes to be regulated under the 2005 Gambling Act as “games of chance” and that the changes should be made immediately.
Meanwhile, Ukie, a trade body representing video game companies in the country, has announced that it’s working hard to address concerns regarding loot boxes in the UK, and has been pushing for more parental controls on game consoles to regulate the use and spending of these mechanics. Ukie also confirmed that it will be working closely with the UK government during its review of the Gambling Act and loot boxes later this year.
The news comes as the New South Wales Government’s Responsible Gambling Fund has issued a warning on the dangers of loot boxes following a study by Central Queensland University.
The study warned that young adults are “more likely to gamble if exposed to in-game purchases and loot boxes in video games”. It also compared loot boxes to unregulated gambling products and found that the median monthly expenditure on loot boxes was £50 for gamers aged between 12 and 17 and around $72 for those aged over 18.
According to CasinoBeats, the report, which was published to raise awareness of the risks regarding loot boxes, found that gamers who purchase loot boxes are more likely to develop gambling-related problems.
Finally, the study also found that those who have bought loot boxes within the past year are more likely to have gambled in the same time period, gamble frequently, have spent more money and time gambling, have a more positive attitude towards gambling, and suffer more gambling-related problems.
Speaking about the study, Natalie Wright, the Director of the Office of Responsible Gambling, said: “Loot boxes can resemble gambling since players invest time and sometimes money in obtaining them, then receive a random reward of uncertain value such as weapons or outfits for their characters. They are a growing concern because of the risk and reward elements associated with them that is similar to gambling and there are currently no age limits to play these games.”
Loot boxes continued to be debated around the world and it seems they will continue to do so for the months and years to come. Due to their popularity, it may be hard for governments to clamp down on these mechanics, particularly as many have already tried to do so and failed.