Will In-Game Purchases Be Banned In The UK? A Government Committee Has Called For Regulations On Loot Boxes
With rapid advancements in gaming technology and pre-approved transactions, some gaming developers have reportedly begun to capitalise on players spending money through microtransactions. What was once earned through achievements and progression is now available to unlock quickly with real money, which has led to a UK government committee publishing a report on how in-game purchases through random mechanics needs to be under the same regulation as gambling. But will in-game purchases be banned in the UK altogether, or will legislation be put in place to monitor how much players can spend and how old they have to be to purchase them?
These in-game purchases come in many forms, but the report published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, focuses primarily on loot boxes and how they can have a detrimental impact on a player's mental health and spending habits. Loot boxes, used in games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Fornite Battle Royale, and Apex Legends, are virtual boxes that can be redeemed with real currency for more items.
As the content of these boxes is randomised, the player has to rely on the luck of the draw to receive what they want, which can lead to a multitude of issues. This has become especially prevalent with younger gamers, as there is an increasing trend of children spending their parent's money without their permission on these purchases.
"Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamers, while exposing children to potential harm," DCMS Committee Chair Damian Collins MP said in the report. "Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance, and it is high time gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act."
The DCMS Committee collated evidence in the report from a variety of sources, including gamers directly affected by the addictive nature of these purchases and medical professionals working directly in the field of gambling addiction and gaming disorder. "Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive gameplay has been recognised by the World Health Organisation," Collins added. "It's time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable players."
Developers and gaming associations do not agree with the evidence collated in this report, despite the DCMS stating how difficult it was "to get full and clear answers" from developers in the first place. As PC Gamer reports, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) stated that they "strongly disagree" with the Committee's findings.
"As demonstrated by the recent announcement of policies regarding the disclosure of the relative rarity or probability of obtaining virtual items in pad loot boxes as well as the robust parental controls that empower parents to control in-game purchases, the videogame industry is a leader in partnering with parents and players to create enjoyable video game experiences," a ESA representative said.
"In addition, numerous regulatory bodies around the world, including those in Australia, France, Ireland, Germany, and the UK, have come to a conclusion starkly different than that of this committee."
However, as the Independent reports, last year Belgium banned loot boxes altogether after Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens stated that they "were in violation with the country's gambling legislation and game developers that failed to comply could face heavy fines or even prison sentences,". Other countries like the Netherlands and China have also taken this into account, and "have already either classified loot boxes as gambling or moves to restrict them," The Guardian writes.
Additional microtransactions such as DLC (downloadable content) and cosmetic items are still available. But even then, it's still ridiculous that developers are charging players for additional content. As The Guardian points out, "[w]hat were once called computer games were bought, complete, on disk." If players were after additional content, it was up to the developers to create and release expansion packs or sequels.
But thanks to advancements in technology, "[m]ordern games are no longer products you buy and use — they have become a gateway to perpetual spending habits", and something needs to change.