Loot boxes: Underage gambling, but legal?

4 Mins read

Loot boxes is a term usually associated with video games, in which players can purchase items in the game, whether it’s a character or goodies such as costumes or in certain games weapons and many more other perks. To purchase one of these said loot crates, players will pay using either in-game money or real-life money. 

An example of a game which gives players the option to buy loot boxes is Fortnite. Usually, those making the purchase are unable to see what the boxes contain as they are randomised; however, as of 2019, Epic Games, the creators of the icnoic game, decided to allow their players a look into the contents of these boxes. 

To this date, though, four countries have banned loot boxes in video games. But why?

This is where the ethical question comes into play with many people considering these loot boxes as a form of gambling. That being said, The House of Lords presented a motion for such loot boxes to be classified as “games of chance” under the 2005 Gambling Act, at the end of 2020.

According to the House of Commons Library, “Concerns have been raised about the “structural and psychological similarities” between loot boxes and gambling and that they can encourage children to gamble, possibly leading to harmful behaviour.”

Nevertheless, the motion was ruled out for the time being as the view was loot boxes do not come under the Gambling Act 2005, which means there are no legal regulations in place against it in the UK, therefore allowing them to remain legal in this country.

Loot Box

Overwatch is another game which uses loot boxes [Dan Marino]

The first country to progress with making regulations against loot boxes was Japan. In 2012, the notion of banning “complete gacha” came into place. Essentially, gacha boxes are another name for loot boxes, as it is the same principle. Players pay money to receive a random item in the game. The reasoning behind the action to ban complete gacha came after Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency stated that complete gacha is illegal, releasing a statement saying it violated laws. 

Four years later, China took action against loot boxes in 2016, followed by The Netherlands in 2018, and the most recent country being Belgium in 2019, after declaring that loot boxes are a form of illegal gambling. 

While the PEGI rating for Fortnite is 12, the PEGI rate for FIFA, created by EA games, is three. The PEGI rate on games determines what ages would be suitable to play video games. It varies with each game, and depends on the content; i.e. Fortnite is PEGI 12 as there are “frequent scenes of mild violence”. This does mean that as long as you are over either 12, or three-years-old in FIFA’s case, you can play, but also essentially take a gamble, through loot boxes. 

Studies suggest that games with loot boxes are more addictive; according to the Guardian, young people have reported being so addicted to these games, that they have placed themselves in debt.

Alex Miller, 20, has been playing FIFA since he was six years old. FIFA is a video game based on football where players create their teams and build them with their favourite footballers to host matches against other players all over the world. 

We asked Alex whether someone could play FIFA without spending a penny, after having purchased the game in the first place: “Yes, of course, you can play without spending any money in-game; however, you will have a disadvantage when it comes to playing with other players, it is essentially a pay-to-win strategy.”

These loot boxes are known as ‘packs’ on FIFA, and these can be purchased with FIFA points. The number of points you spend on a pack will vary on the contents. Though players are unable to see the footballer, these packs come with percentage ratings. Meaning that, before committing to the pack and spending points, gamers can access the pack probability of getting higher ranked cards (footballers).

Screenshot from EA Games' Star Wars Battlefront

Star Wars Battlefront II came under fire for its inclusion of loot boxes from the Hawaii state legislator Chris Lee [Dan Marino]

On average, there is usually a 5% chance of receiving them as a perk when it comes to the more skilled footballers. This, in turn, leads gamers to spend more money so they can have a better performance when playing matches with others. 

FIFA points prices range from £0.79 for 100 points, up to £79.99 for 12,000 points. With gamers typically spending more than 1,500 points to get better packs. The game itself can be purchased for around £60. 

In the 14 years of playing EA Games’ FIFA, Alex has spent over £1,000, on in-game purchases. 

“I think it is a form of gambling. While I believe there shouldn’t be any regulations when it comes to under-18s playing the game itself, there definitely should be more rules against the purchase of points, as it just makes the game much more addicting. If your bank details are registered on your games console, you can make a payment in less than two clicks,” Alex said.

Games are intended to provide entertainment, which in turn gives players happiness. That being said, joy can instantly turn into other emotions, such as anger and sadness.

“I would even say that FIFA has affected myself and my friend’s mental health, in the sense that, we become so overwhelmed with frustration after spending our money only to be met with disappointment as we didn’t get the outcome we had hoped for.”

Will, the UK government do something to help prevent addiction and debt in the youth? Having had one attempt, it is likely more will follow.




Featured image and video clip by Alex Miller.
Edited by Charlotte Gamage, Sophie Victroai Brown and Emil Brierley.

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