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This article was published on September 13, 2019

UK committee condemns loot boxes (‘surprise mechanics’) as gambling

UK committee condemns loot boxes (‘surprise mechanics’) as gambling
Rachel Kaser
Story by

Rachel Kaser

Internet Culture Writer

Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback riding. Check her Twitter for curmudgeonly criticisms.

The UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee today released their conclusions from their investigation into addictive game mechanics. While the report is a long one not solely focused on games or loot boxes, the committee firmly condemns the use of such mechanics, in spite of attempts by gaming reps to spin them the other way.

The committee’s findings, which you can read here, concluded that, for all the attempts by gaming industry reps to spin the situation another way, loot boxes are gambling, simply put: “We consider loot boxes that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance to be games of chance played for money’s worth.”

This is the same committee who were unfortunate enough to bear witness to an EA rep’s insistence that loot boxes are a “surprise mechanic” comparable to a Kinder egg. The company was widely (and rightly) derided for this.

Evidently this terminology cut no ice with the committee, as the report concludes that the evidence it contributes to gambling problems in adults is not insignificant: “Loot box mechanics are integral to major games companies’ revenues and evidence that they facilitate profiting from problem gamblers should be of serious concern to the industry.”

While the company acknowledged (thank goodness someone did), that there’s not much evidence to suggest loot boxes leave children vulnerable to a gambling addiction, it did say that hawking them to such vulnerable players is kind of a scummy thing to do. It said that “loot boxes that contain the element of chance should not be sold to children playing games, and instead in-game credits should be earned through rewards won through playing the games.”

The committee would be join the company of multiple nations who have condemned loot boxes, but as yet no one’s done anything to actually take action against them. The report’s authors recommend trying to get loot boxes regulated under existing gambling laws.

Needless to say, the Entertainment Software Association issued a strongly-worded disagreement with the committee’s decision, saying, in a statement to GI.biz:

As demonstrated by the recent announcement of policies regarding the disclosure of the relative rarity or probability of obtaining virtual items in paid loot boxes as well as the robust parental controls that empower parents to control in-game purchases, the video game industry is a leader in partnering with parents and players to create enjoyable video game experiences.

Speaking of EA, I’ll say now what I said about its “surprise mechanics” at the time: if the company really thought loot boxes were so great, it wouldn’t be removing them from its major holiday-season release, Jedi: Fallen Order and publicly promising not to try re-adding them after release.

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