Loot boxes – are they the same as online casino games?

You might have noticed several headlines calling for a ban or change to the way that loot boxes are sold in video games. This increasingly popular way of getting extra items and rewards in video games is attracting a growing army of critics including politicians.

The controversy and calls for regulation come from the fact that these boxes are available to buy in many games which are popular with younger players such as Fortnite. Some see them as being akin gambling and no different from playing online casino games at sites such as newcasinos.com or elsewhere.

What exactly are Loot Boxes?

Loot boxes are effectively mystery prizes which can be purchased in online video games using real-world currency. Players don’t know exactly what’s in the box or package until they have made the purchase and cracked it open. In the eyes of many, this is equivalent to gambling because the outcome is unknown at the time of purchase just like wagering on a slot machine.

Although they might come in different forms, the basic mechanics of loot boxes are the same in most cases. Players who are desperate to gain some form of advantage in a game will purchase them in the hope of getting the upper hand over other players.

Controversy in the UK

In late 2019 there were calls from several politicians in the UK to bring the game industry use of loot boxes under existing gambling legislation. It was also urged that the sale of loot boxes to children should receive a blanket ban after an investigation into their use was set up.

UK MPs argue the in-game mechanic should be considered as games of chance which are being played for money and therefore regulated by the UK Gambling Act. A summary of the report they helped to produce stated that “The potential harms.. can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement”.

During an investigation, it was quoted by Jagex, the company behind online game RuneScape, that players could spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month on their loot boxes. It is feared that they are creating addictive tendencies in your gamers which are equal to issues found with gambling addicts.

In 2018 the Belgium government went so far as to enforce a blanket ban on loot boxes. Star Wars Battlefront II kicked off the debate initially with players criticising the game because major characters such as Princess Leia and Darth Vader could only be unlocked by using loot boxes.

The reception to the ban has been favourable among players who often see them as an unfair way to give people who are willing to pay as an advantage over others. As expected, the games industry was not so supportive and compared the use of loot boxes to being no different to buying a Kinder egg.

What is the future of loot boxes? 

It looks as though regulation is set to become more commonplace for loot boxes in the coming months and years. Much like the early days of online gambling, this grey area of video gaming has been left unregulated until now. That is all set to change as more countries become aware of the potentially harmful effects of exposing children to such in-game mechanisms.

The political backlash is growing in tandem with that of the players who are finding they are having to spend increasing amounts to enjoy the games they love playing.

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