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UK committee argues loot boxes should be covered by gambling regulations

UK committee argues loot boxes should be covered by gambling regulations

September 12, 2019 | By Alissa McAloon

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport’s parliamentary committee believes that loot boxes should be regulated under existing UK gambling legislation, an argument that comes at the end of a lengthy series of hearings on a variety of “immersive technology” as a whole, including how loot boxes are used in video games.

Those conversations saw the committee interviewing several higher-ups in the game industry, including the EA legal VP that noted the term “surprise mechanics” is preferred for FIFA’s loot boxes, during several sessions held this summer.

The findings of those hearings, and the committee’s reflection on them, have since been compiled into a report released today alongside the committee’s recommendation that regulation is needed.

“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,” concludes the committee. This finding comes with a suggestion that the UK government should move to apply existing gambling legislation to loot boxes, something the UK Gambling Commission is unable to do until the government moves to alter the current definitions in that legislation.

Beyond that, it also notes that game companies “should be doing more to prevent in-game items from being traded for real-world money, or being used in unlicensed gambling,” an issue faced by games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive through the infamous skin betting sites that attracted attention a few years back. 

During its discussions with game makers, the committee notes that “representatives from the games industry were willfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play” and recommends that companies should be more forthcoming with information about how games are played.

Alongside discussion of loot boxes, the DCMS committee also touched on the World Health Organization’s recent gaming disorder classification, and says that the industry has “not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm.”

“Both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play,” reads the report.

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