The video game industry has come under a lot of scrutiny over loot boxes, culminating with an Electronic Arts executive speaking to the United Kingdom’s Parliament. The executive compared loot boxes to Kinder Eggs instead of gambling. The use of loot boxes is often equated to slot machines or gambling in general. A large concern is the risks posed to children when they are exposed to loot boxes.
On January 18th, Mental Health Director of the National Health Service (NHS) Claire Murdoch called for gaming companies to ban loot boxes, claiming that loot boxes potentially set up children to develop issues with gambling addiction.
Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.
In addition to banning the sale of loot boxes, Murdoch advocates for spending limitations that are available in games and absolute transparency on the percentage to gain items in loot boxes before making the purchase. She also urges the gaming industry to take more responsibility to protect people from dangers that loot boxes and monetization could have. Additionally, Murdoch is concerned with the lack of barriers that restrict children from playing games that are rated for older people.
The Children’s Commissioner in the UK published a paper called “Gaming the System” in October of 2019. The paper reported on children aged 10-16 and their perception of their favorite games. A point raised in the paper is that games with loot box mechanics place pressure on younger players to make additional purchases in-game, and that some children face real-world ramifications such as bullying for not being able to buy those items in popular games. The paper concludes that loot boxes are equivalent to gambling machines and touches on the psychological tactics being used to sell loot boxes. Later, the Children’s Commissioner urged Parliment to regulate loot boxes under the Gambling Act of 2005.
The NHS estimates that 400,000 people in England alone suffer from serious gambling addiction. The Gambling Commission reports that 55,000 children also suffer from gambling addiction. Both organisations speculate that the increased use of loot boxes is major factor for the rate of addiction in the UK.
In response the NHS is opening 14 more mental healthcare facilities across the UK, staffed with specialists to deal with people that are addicted to gambling. Despite the growing concern, the Gambling Commission cannot regulate loot boxes under current UK gambling laws because people do not receive a monetary reward or items with real-world value they can sell outside the game.