New UK parliament report recommends regulation of lockboxes as gambling

    
26

Remember last month when UK lawmakers started making fresh noise about classifying lockboxes/lootboxes as gambling to protect children following multiple reports and surveys on the monetization mechanic and its impact on the public? It’s back in the news this week as the UK’s House of Lords released a final report from its Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry.

The committee report argues that gambling is a serious problem in the country, rife with exploitation, particularly for kids under 17 who are by law not even permitted to gamble in the first place. And yes, video games and mobile platforms are specifically singled out as one of the culprits that are not addressed under the 2005 Gambling Act; the Lords asserts that “new games are constantly being devised, often highly addictive, sometimes with a particular appeal to children” and yet there exists “no adequate system of checking such games before they are put on the market.”

The report further homes in on loot boxes aka lockboxes and skin trading. (We note once again here our frustration that the original decade-old term “lockbox” has been usurped by the misleading and industry-friendly “loot box.”) Citing research that “suggests that either loot boxes cause problem gambling, or they exploit problem gambling among gamers to generate profits,” the committee recommends regulations to the 2005 Act to “[specify] that loot boxes and any other similar games are games of chance[.]” And that’s that.

“It is crucial that any future developments in gambling, video gaming or other products that may contain gambling-like elements, which would not currently fall within the definition of gambling, should be brought within the remit of the Gambling Act as they appear. It is too late to regulate a product as gambling, when it has already caused harm to children and young people. Neither the Government nor the Gambling Commission can afford to wait years before bringing new ‘gambling-like’ products within the remit of the Act. […] The recommendation above will deal with the immediate issue of loot boxes, but gambling operators or gaming companies may develop new products which blur the distinction between video gaming and gambling.”

Source: Gambling Harm – Time for Action, The BBC. With thanks to PlasmaJohn, Chris, Allan, and The Dead Secret World Game.

26
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Roger Melly

Personally I am in favor of an outright ban . However if legislation is put in place to govern the use of lock boxes in games then it be very stringently enforced . Any game that has them in it must be rated 18+ and this needs to be proven by supplying personal identification of your age such as a passport , driving license or identity card under which corresponds to the same name on your credit or debit card .

Of course no such method is 100 percent effective, I am sure some people will find a way around it and some parents will still sign their children into such games . However it will limit the exposure of minors to this type of gambling . I also suspect most developers/publishers will decide it not worth the effort and remove lock boxes anyway .

Reader
Ewan Cuthbertson

Don’t get too excited the Lords has no powers in making legislation. They can only amend legislation sent by the commons so unless the government take up this report its pointless.

Reader
Roger Melly

True but even so I think the government will soon follow suit and legislation will be drawn up banning lock boxes .

Reader
Ewan Cuthbertson

Really we are talking about a government that cut health and education budgets for 10 years and gave tax cuts to the richest in society even if they do “ban” lootboxes it will be a joke because big business is their main priority.

Reader
Anstalt

This makes me happy, as it’s basically what I’ve been asking for for years.

We already have all the legislation, trade bodies, inspectors and all the other framework needed to regulate gamlbing. We know the harms it causes and we’ve developed ways to manage that harm.

All this does is say “ah, the loophole u guys were using to sell lockboxes will be closed, and lockboxes will now be treated like all other forms of regulated gambling”.

I’m sure the games industry will continue to find ways around such regulation, but like the House of Lords said, this would set the precident for the future, making it quicker and easier to shut down exploitative monetisation strategies. Well done House of Lords. You don’t often get much right, but glad that you have this time!

Reader
Adam Russell

Its like gambling where the prize is something you dont even get to own because its still their bits and bytes.

Reader
David Goodman

I don’t think you need to ban lootboxes/lockboxes, they’re just gambling, and gambling is a thing you can choose to do as an adult in many ways.

They simply need to be regulated as the gambling it is.

if this causes companies to pull their lootboxes because they don’t want them to be regulated by a gambling commission – because they are gambling – then I won’t shed a tear. If they have to put mechanics in place to prevent children from gambling (because it is), I am not going to be upset. (If my son, age 7, manages to get past the guards at a casino and make it to a poker table, they don’t just let him play because he got in. They’re still not allowed to let him gamble, even if he has the money, even if I gave him my wallet and helped him climb the fence.)

Will the industry just try something else? Yep, but that’s no reason to do nothing about it. I don’t trust them to regular themselves — they created the ESRB, and the ESRB doesn’t do anything except parrot industry buzzwords. Companies put MTX into games AFTER launch to circumvent even the ESRB that they created to avoid the labels THEY agreed on.

Will it affect small companies more than large? Undoubtedly. But again, I don’t care — you don’t get a free pass just for being indie.

I just hope this gets cited as a precedent for other countries.

Reader
Roger Melly

“The committee report argues that gambling is a serious problem in the country, rife with exploitation, particularly for kids under 17 who are by law not even permitted to gamble in the first place”

Did you not read this part . The reason for they are calling for legislation is over concerns about how it exposes children to the habit of gambling . I can’t imagine any responsible parent wouldn’t want such a practice to be banned .

Reader
David Goodman

SO what part of my comment was that directed to? Or do you just quote a piece of the article, and ask “did you not read?”

Or was this a poke at my parenting because I made a joke? “responsible parent” indeed.

You cite “the reason they are calling for legislation..” but that in no way addresses or answers a question that i asked in my post. I didn’t ask why they were calling for legislation. I can’t determine a purpose to your response.

Did YOU not read MY post? If you’re looking to have a conversation or discussion, you’ll have to make an effort.

Of course, if you’re just trying to troll and insult me because you’ve had a bad day, you can just be honest with yourself.

Reader
Arktouros

To my knowledge there’s still zero research that shows a direct causal link between lockboxes and problem gambling. In fact in the report that came of the whole UK investigation where the EA person infamously said “surprise mechanics” numerous doctors all stated that research should be done on that topic to show if there is a casual link. I do believe they also stated that it would exploit problem gamblers, however. Reading through it this seems to be mostly the focus for Dr Zendle’s contribution and only guesses that there may be a causal link.

products that may contain gambling-like elements, which would not currently fall within the definition of gambling, should be brought within the remit of the Gambling Act as they appear

I’d also point out that this kind of generic talk they are making here would basically make most RPG games that rely on randomized outcomes be regulated as gambling. There are many examples of this across multiple RPG genres.

For example in the MMO space consider dungeons that offer randomized rewards at the end for defeating bosses. How many times have you or people you know run dungeons just trying to get a specific drop and hoping “RNGesus” blesses you? It’s the same principles. Another example is in ARPGs and Looter Shooters which are built entirely on the idea of randomized reward mechanics to keep you playing. Yea you might get a lot of garbage loot but you’re looking for that “God Roll” item so you keep repeating the same content over and over.

This is the big reason I’m super cautious about these governments clumsily wielding legislation around on topics they don’t really understand. They should really start with the obvious scenario (being able to resell items outside of the game such as the CS:GO Skinconomy) and then go from there.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

I do believe they also stated that it would exploit problem gamblers, however.

Which is why you don’t need definitive proof that lootboxes lead to problem gambling; even if it’s not causing minors to grow up into problem gamblers, it’s still exploiting problem gamblers, which is reason enough to regulate and restrict access to it.

For example in the MMO space consider dungeons that offer randomized rewards at the end for defeating bosses. How many times have you or people you know run dungeons just trying to get a specific drop and hoping “RNGesus” blesses you? It’s the same principles.

Yep. The main difference is that you don’t pay a fee per attempt, which should prevent these from being labeled as gambling.

On the other hand, if this kind of bullshit tactic to make players spend more time repeating old, boring content became outlawed, I believe it would greatly improve how enjoyable those games are. But then I’m biased; I absolutely hate any and every application of RNG when choosing which rewards the player will get, to the point I leave any MMO as soon as all my paths to progress become bloody slot machines.

Reader
Arktouros

Which is why you don’t need definitive proof that lootboxes lead to problem gambling

I don’t agree with this assessment. Exploiting a particularly vulnerable portion of our population has never been a concern of most modern societies (even if we feel it should be). For example in the case of problem gamblers it’s still perfectly legal to go to Vegas (or whatever gambling location you prefer) and lose everything and destroy their lives.

What is a great cause for concern is when things are problem causing, specifically in the case of alchohol or other various drugs (smoking with nicotine) these are regulated primarily because they are addictive and causal in related issues. By comparison gambling is largely primarily due to tax/financial reasons as it’s a source of money trading hands and damned if the Government isn’t going to get their cut which is why it’s so heavily regulated.

Yep. The main difference is that you don’t pay a fee per attempt, which should prevent these from being labeled as gambling.

That’s not the verbiage being used here. You’re still trying to cling to the current definition of gambling (paying something of value at a chance for something else of value). They specifically state “gambling-like elements” that “which would not currently fall within the definition of gambling”.

Again I’m still baffled and have no idea what games you actually play because almost every single RPG as far back as even pen and paper RPGs are all based on dice rolls and RNG.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

For example in the case of problem gamblers it’s still perfectly legal to go to Vegas (or whatever gambling location you prefer) and lose everything and destroy their lives.

In the US, perhaps. In much of the world, though, it’s not, often having limits on who can take part, how much and how often they can bet, etc. The UK itself is deciding on whether to restrict online bets to £2, ban advertising for online gambling, make “VIP”/frequent patron bonuses and packages illegal, and force companies to work with third-parties that would evaluate if the patron can afford to gamble.

which is why it’s so heavily regulated.

Unregulated gambling is also among the easiest ways to launder money, due to the way it brings lots of small, usually untraceable payments — which could be made using “dirty” money — and provide large payouts of “clean” money; for certain games of chance you don’t even need the compliance of the gambling house, you can just keep betting while using strategies that guarantee you will recover most of your money. So, if you are serious about fighting against organized crime and corruption you need to regulate gambling.

Again I’m still baffled and have no idea what games you actually play because almost every single RPG as far back as even pen and paper RPGs are all based on dice rolls and RNG.

I’m not against randomness per see; I’m just against randomness when applied to rewards. As long as all the important rewards are fixed or otherwise known ahead of time, and that skill is more important than luck, I’m usually fine with whatever randomness is added to a game.

Most MMOs before the end-game conform to this; quest rewards tend to be the only really important rewards before you start with chain-running dungeons and raids, and for the most part quest rewards are fixed (and, incidentally, when all ways of progression become reliant on RNG I leave the game). The same with most non-MMO RPGs; JRPGs tend to mostly only use RNG for unimportant rewards like consumables, occidental RPGs like Baldur’s Gate or Fallout tend to have the best items as fixed rewards, and even looter games like Diablo or Borderlands kinda stick to this for the first playthrough because everything that drops ends being vendor trash anyway.

Reader
Arktouros

I’m going to have to call you on the assertion that around the world casinos and other gambling industries are required to make sure the person isn’t a problem gambler. Can you cite any sources for those kinds of active programs? You’ve cited some measures that the UK is thinking about doing, but I can’t think of any western states that actively do this (maybe in Asian countries I am not too familiar with their various policies). We could just as easily shift the topic towards another heavily regulated industry such as alchohol and I’m equally unaware of any bars, restaurants or otherwise being unable to sell their booze to alcoholics. Again, we generally don’t protect people from their own self problems even if they suffer such problems.

Yes laundering money goes under that whole “financial reasons” rather than protective reasons. Again this is important because since that’s the primary reasons gambling is regulated where as other industries (Alchohol, tobacco, etc) are regulated due to public safety/protection then it’s very important to establish casual issues that people need to be protected from. Hence back to my original argument that establishing a casual relationship between loot boxes creating problem gamblers thus needing to protect people from them.

As for RNG, I dunno man, most RPG style games tend to offer some sort of RNG mechanics in it’s rewards. It’s designed this way to get people to repeat the content over and over to elongate play time. That style game design pretty much has been in place for the last 20 years across Sandboxes, Themeparks and all the various other RPG genres such as ARPGs which are basically just huge RNG loot grinders. RNG is basically the backbone of the RPG industry.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Can you cite any sources for those kinds of active programs?

Belgium keeps a country-wide list of people that are banned from gambling, which includes problem gamblers (who can be included in the list by any interested party, including debt holders), people who voluntarily choose to be included, and certain professions (such as magistrates and policemen). There’s also a limit on online betting of €500 per week per player.

South Korea has a strict list of kinds of in-person gambling that are legal; any other kind of gambling, including all kinds of online gambling, even if done while traveling abroad, is illegal for Koreans and carry a 3 years prison sentence. And the population is very much in favor of keeping those harsh restrictions in place, mind.

Brazil has an interesting approach to restrict problem gambling; you can’t collect debts from gambling, meaning extending credit to a gambler is a losing proposition. Most kinds of gambling, such as casinos, slot machines, bingos, etc, are also illegal; the main legal kind of gambling in Brazil are lotteries, where you need to wait between a few days and a couple weeks to see if you won anything, breaking the psychological feedback (though unfortunately a bunch of crooked politicians is attempting to legalize casinos).

Those are just the ones I researched about.

We could just as easily shift the topic towards another heavily regulated industry such as alchohol and I’m equally unaware of any bars, restaurants or otherwise being unable to sell their booze to alcoholics.

Funny thing, in the UK and France it’s illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to someone who is already drunk. Meanwhile, in Japan a bar that allows an inebriated patron to leave driving a vehicle is subject to a fine.

The idea that people should be free to ruin their own lives thankfully isn’t as prevalent outside the US.

That style game design pretty much has been in place for the last 20 years across Sandboxes, Themeparks and all the various other RPG genres such as ARPGs which are basically just huge RNG loot grinders.

While many games use RNG with certain rewards, outside certain niches — such as MMOs and loot grinders — that reward RNG is kept in check, influencing only unimportant rewards; anything you care about tends to be a fixed reward, one not influenced at all by RNG.

This includes much of the Action RPG genre, BTW. The only kind of ARPG that uses RNG as the basis for its reward systems is the above noted loot grinder subgenre; other ARPGs, like Zelda, Dark Souls, The Witcher, Skyrim, etc, often keep RNG away from any reward players are supposed to care about.

Reader
bobfish

It doesn’t need to cause it.

Gambling Regulation is there primarily to protect people who are susceptible to it.

Techno Wizard
Reader
Techno Wizard

I see poker as gambling, but not lootboxes.

Reader
Utakata

That depends what you are putting on it. As in, I can say poker is not gambling since I don’t play it. /shrug

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Java Jawa

Can we just get rid of these in the industry and be honest with our players? Too much to ask for?

Reader
losludvig

While I think doing a direct comparison between cosmetic rng boxes and casino slot machines is a bit silly, I also think that the industry got plenty of warnings to stop acting shady and did pretty much nothing, so I’ll be at the sideline with marsh-mellows enjoying the bonfire

Reader
Arktouros

Companies will just act even more shady once loot boxes are banned.

Companies that can survive the monetization shift (larger companies mostly) will just start baking the RNG directly into the game and selling you ways to cope with bad RNG outside of it. You can see a live example of this with Black Desert Online which makes gobs of money year over year as a result. Honestly I should contact Electronic Arts cause I could set them up a system for FIFA that would absolutely take a dump on any anti lockbox legislation but still keep them rich.

Then the only way to go after all that is to go after RNG in the games themselves and that’s super dangerous for the reasons I said above. Basically would be like setting a bomb off in the game industry because of how heavily it relies on RNG mechanics. Armsbend would approve, but I think the rest of us would suffer a bit.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Armsbend would approve, but I think the rest of us would suffer a bit.

I miss that guy.

Reader
Danny Smith

“N-nooooo” screams the guy who has part of his budget set aside for funpay minibuys “But trading cards and [generic restaurant metaphor that falls apart midway] its all the same!”

This shit was always a hustle. Always. But when it got to “we carefully curated a box opening animation that shows a 1 frame flash of the highest rarity to make habit forming personalities think they were close and just need one more try!” it turned into a slot machine with a money in but no money out. Its a scam to predate children and adults that should know better but don’t. Anyone defending this trash in 2020 is either an addict or has some kind of gain to come from doing so. The sooner its gone the better.

Reader
Giskard Daneel

Exactly. There’s nothing worse than lootboxes where you see two rare items spinning with another eight crappy things, making you think you have a 20% chance of hitting one of shinies, when the reality is it’s probably 1% if not lower. They’re designed to make you think you have an equal chance to hit each item, when you don’t. It disgusts me the industry’s been able to get away with this for so long.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

One of the reasons I want lootboxes to be regulated like gambling is because gambling regulations ban this kind of scam (and often make it a criminal offense).

When you look at how devs and publishers implement lootboxes you get the impression that they look at all the highly damaging tactics banned from gambling for inspiration.

Reader
Utakata

…or someone who doesn’t like regulation. Which is oft the counter narrative been thrown around here in the ad tedium at times. /sigh