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Gamble or not: how loot boxes managed to survive a banning

Identified as risky and encouraging gambling, the loot box has managed to avoid being banned.

Loot boxes have been the bane of many gamers’ lives, with some campaigners equating them to problematic gambling because of the behaviors they encourage in people who are often susceptible to predatory behavior, such as children.

They’ve been the targets of regulators and lawmakers for years, with an increasing clamor to ban them outright or to severely limit which type of people can use them, and for how long. But one recent attempt to kick loot boxes into the annals of history, never to be used again, turned out to have a less than a satisfactory conclusion for those who believe they should be banned.

A two-year-long consultation by the UK government concluded in mid-July, with many thinking that it would signal a need to ban loot boxes from video games in the country. What happened was slightly different: the consultation’s outcome decided that loot boxes were a concern but decreed that they shouldn’t be banned.

Problem gambling

The consultation into loot boxes was damning. The researchers discovered a “consistent” association between loot boxes and problem gambling. But the government declined to take action to ban them, instead asking the industry to draw up solutions that would limit their spread and some of the more nefarious issues that came with them.

This approach was taken because of fears that more stringent action could have unintended consequences. “Legislation to introduce an outright ban on children purchasing loot boxes could have the unintended effect of more children using adult accounts, and thus having more limited parental oversight of their play and spending,” the government said when the consultation concluded.

“Our view is that it would be premature to take legislative action without first pursuing enhanced industry-led measures to deliver protections for children and young people and all players,” they added.

Major issues

The UK secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Nadine Dorries, said that she felt that loot boxes were an issue – even while stopping short of legislating against them. “Children and young people should not be able to purchase loot boxes without parental approval,” she explained. “In addition, all players should have access to spending controls and transparent information to support their gaming.”

It comes as a blow for campaigners who have long worried about their pernicious effects and the ruin they can cause for people who might not otherwise dabble in gambling but do so because they like to play the games that contain loot box-like features within them.

However, that may not be all bad. Even when loot box bans are enacted, they’re rarely enforced, according to a new study of how loot box laws have been operated in Belgium. The country’s ban on loot boxes was introduced in 2018 and was designed to totally outlaw their use in any mobile phone games. However, a study of the 100 highest-grossing iPhone games in Belgium found that 82% of them had features similar to loot boxes, if not outright examples of them.

In short, the study’s authors say the law isn’t working and should be reconsidered and reinforced to ensure it takes effect.

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