A US senator has proposed a ban on loot boxes in video games, saying they are “preying on user addiction” and exploiting children. However, the US isn’t the first country to raise concerns over in-game spending.
Last month, the Belgium government said loot boxes violated its gambling laws. Sweden is also investigating them, since it seemingly encourages gambling or sets the tone for future gambling addicts, with a rewards by chance or via persistent in-game purchases.
The Chinese government, on the other hand, has placed restrictions on the number of loot boxes that players can open each day. However, the gaming industry has said that is has tools to limit in-game spending.
“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetise addiction.” Republican senator Josh Hawley said of his proposed Protecting Children from Abusive Games Bill.
“And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive micro-transactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”
However, before the bill can be passed, it must face a long process. It must pass through a number of committees and face scrutiny by the House or Representatives and Senate, before finally being signed off by the President.
Mr Hawley brought up Candy Crush, a popular free game that includes a $149 (£114) bundle that includes 1,000 units of its in-game currency.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) said in a statement that a number of countries including the UK, Ireland, Australia, Germany and Denmark had determined that loot boxes were not affiliated to gambling.
“We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands,” The ESA stated.
“Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy-to-use parental controls.”
The ESA have also previously said that attempts to standardise the gaming industry threatened its freedom to develop and test new business models.
Whilst numerous countries do not believe there is a correlation between in-game spending and gambling. There is increasing evidence which could prove otherwise, as loot boxes and rewards at a cost, or not, triggers the same dopamine chemicals for chance and reward, as experienced by addicted gamblers. Well, that’s the premise, anyhow.
Loot boxes were introduced to video games in the mid-2000s and have remained increasingly popular among players since then. They are often used to monetise free games, with some having online marketplaces where players can trade or sell loot box items.
Sometimes, players can earn them as rewards, but more often than not, they are encouraged to buy them using real or virtual currency. In most cases, a player will not know what is inside a loot box until the loot box is opened and already purchased, hence the similarity to gambling.
In a paper published by Addictive Behaviours, scientists at the University of British Columbia’s centre of gambling research claim to have identified a correlation between precarious gambling behaviour and loot boxes.
In the survey, 144 adult gamers and 113 were interviewed about their use of loot boxes. The results found that almost 90% of respondents said they had purchased and opened a loot box in a video game. Over half of them spent money on them and approximately a third reported to have sold a loot box item.
The majority of respondents said they considered loot boxes as a form of gambling.
“Our findings are consistent with voiced concerns that loot boxes overlap with gambling and support the need for regulators to consider gambling-like mechanisms within video games,” author Gabriel Brooks reported.
However, the gaming industry argues that loot boxes are not connected to gambling because games do not offer players the option to cash-in their winnings to gain real money.
Whilst excessive in-game spending can cause concerns over addictive behaviour, and also harm your bank account, can it be compared to real-world gambling? The main difference is surely that you cannot win any real money in video games.
Please do let us know your opinions on this complex topic in the comments section down below, as it might be breeding child gamblers, or future addicts, or does it?
Story by Emily Clark
Featured Photo Credit: twinfinite.com