GambleAware Warns That Paid Loot Boxes Are Gambling for Kids
GambleAware, a top UK gaming addiction group, claims loot boxes are producing gambling habits in the next generation. The nonprofit activist group made its comments as Blizzard pulled paid-for loot boxes in its Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm games in the Belgian gaming market.
Loot boxes in-game rewards known in some online games and video games as booster packs, skins, or loot crates. Players normally can acquire these enhancements or equipment upgrades through game-play, as they level-up due to hours spend playing the game.
Many game designers allow players to pay for loot boxes. In many cases, though, the player does not know what is inside the booster pack. Since they are paying for the upgrade, many see the random results as a form of gambling.
Others are not so certain. For generations, American children bought packs of baseball cards, hoping to acquire the cards of All-Star or Hall of Fame ballplayers. Packs of baseball cards cost money but had random results, so one could have complained baseball cards were (and are) a form of gambling taught to kids. Instead, collecting baseball cards is seen as a throwback to a simpler time.
Blizzard Pulls Loot Boxes from Belgium
Loot boxes, on the other hand, are seen as a corruption of the video game industry. The Belgium gaming regulator ruled last year that loot boxes are a form of gambling. According to the Belgians, the combination of a payment for a result and the randomization of those results constitutes gambling.
ARJEL, the French gambling regulator, later ruled that loot boxes are not a form of gambling. The regulator in New Zealand ruled similarly, but the issue is being resolved in different ways throughout the western world.
GambleAware Statement on Loot Boxes
In the United Kingdom, GambleAware and similar groups are calling for the UK Gambling Commission to follow Belgium’s example. Game publishers and player groups within the gaming community do not want new regulations, especially those which would ban certain practices in UK video games.
GambleAware’s statement read, “More than one in ten British children are effectively gambling in popular online games.”
The group added that random-result booster packs “may be normalising gambling for children.”
This week, Activision-Blizzard pulled paid loot boxes for Overwatch (pictured above) and Heroes of the Storm from the Belgian market. The company released a statement after doing so, saying, they wanted to “prevent Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm players located in Belgium from purchasing in-game loot boxes and loot chests with real money and gems.”
Blizzard stated it disagreed with the Belgian government’s stance on the issue: “While we at Blizzard were surprised by this conclusion and do not share the same opinion, we have decided to comply with their interpretation of Belgian law.”
UK and US Loot Box Policies
The real concern for video game publishers is whether the UK and US governments eventually ban loot boxes. Thus groups like GambleAware present a particular threat to companies like Blizzard.
That is why the recent comments by UK Digital Secretary and Tory politician, Matt Hancock, presents a challenge to Blizzard, Epic Games, and their like. When asked about what the UK government should do about loot boxes, Hancock said, “The role of Government is difficult but it comes down again to a duty of care.”
Back in July, the Digital Secretary said the UK Gambling Commission can and should ban loot boxes in the United Kingdom. Hancock said, “There was an attitude that pervaded for a generation that these companies are global and therefore you can’t regulate them. Not true. That the technology changes fast and therefore you can’t regulate it. Not true.”
UK Gambling Commission on Loot Boxes
The UK Gambling Commission still has not issued a direct ban, but it has solicited opinions from UK citizens. The Gambling Commission has taken a tougher stance on gaming companies’ infractions in recent months and years, which includes loot boxes.
The Commission issued a stern warning to companies that might add predatory loot boxes to their games, stating, “The Gambling Commission has shown it will take action and prosecute unlicensed gambling that features in-game items. The Commission is also working with the video games industry to raise awareness of this issue and also find additional solutions.”
Andrew Wilson: EA’s Loot Box Policy
Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts (EA), disagreed with Matt Hancock’s notion that loot boxes are gambling. Wilson, whose company was fined in May by the Gambling Commission recently for FIFA Ultimate Team, said of the ruling, “We don’t believe loot boxes are gambling firstly because players always receive a specified number of items in each pack, and secondly we don’t provide or authorise any way to cash out or sell items or virtual currency for real money.”