Today, in the UK, the government is proposing to introduce a law that would require games with loot boxes to label them as gambling, in an attempt to help people understand the associated risks and their long term implications. The law would force publishers to put a label on the front of a game box that says something like “Loot boxes contain real money and have very real consequences.”

The UK Gambling Commission (Gambling Commission) has today published a consultation seeking views on whether to take action to regulate the way loot boxes are used in the video games industry. They claim that the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill could have a “significant impact on the way games are developed and marketed” and that “industry-wide regulation can help to improve player welfare and protect them from the risks of gambling addiction and other harm; and protect the integrity of the market.”

The UK Parliament has just voted to pass a bill that would require certain video games—specifically lootboxes—to be labeled as “free-to-play” or “pay-to-lose” if they use “gambling technology”. This is a ridiculous idea.

We never like these things.

Some Democrats in the United States Congress are seeking to address the issue of lootboxes in the nation. That’s excellent. They also tried to get big game companies to self-regulate the monetization model by writing them a letter. That’s also a good thing. They’re doing it, though, by requesting that a UK suggestion be extended to American youngsters — recommendations that have nothing to do with lootboxes. That’s not a good sign.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) wrote a joint letter to publishers such as Disney, Epic Games, Activision, and Microsoft, urging them to extend the protections of the UK’s Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC) regulation, which is a set of standards aimed at protecting children’s privacy, data, and geolocation when they use games, websites, and social media. Lootboxes aren’t mentioned anywhere in the regulation’s text.

Despite this, the letter mentions “manipulation and peer pressure connected with in-game purchases and loot boxes,” and tries to use the AADC’s safeguards as a way for game developers and publishers to stop doing so.

“The widespread use of micro-transactions, which are often prompted by nudging, has resulted in hefty credit card bills for parents. Loot boxes take it a step further, promoting purchases before a kid is aware of what the ‘bundle’ includes — almost like gambling. In-game purchases and prize boxes make children more susceptible to deception and peer pressure. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings and parental controls, according to experts, are inadequate. The AADC is a huge step forward in the direction of child-centered design by default.”

The letter also mentions video game violence at the outset but never brings it up again, then closes with a vague promise that Congress should act “with urgency to enact a strong privacy law for children and teens in the twenty-first century” — implying that Congress understands the AADC regulation — and finally ends with questions about whether the publishers in question will do what the Congressp wants. Consider Exhibit A if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to attempt to perform your job without really doing it.

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The UK government recently put forth a proposal to ban ‘loot boxes’, which is the UK term for in-game virtual items that are randomly chosen or buyable in a game. This is a great idea, but the UK’s proposed law is already ludicrously broad, and it would be bad for game publishers. That means it’s unlikely to happen.. Read more about what countries have banned loot boxes and let us know what you think.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • loot boxes
  • loot box gambling
  • what are loot boxes
  • loot box regulation
  • loot boxes gambling
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