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Loot boxes: To Ban Or Not To Ban?

The UK is reviewing its laws around loot boxes and is due to pass a judgement on whether they will be deemed harmful for under 18s. Using information from a number of sources I ask the question, should these mechanics be banned in video games?

Amanda Walters, Blogger

July 14, 2021

2 Min Read

Loot boxes and micro-transactions are commonplace in the world of modern gaming. These pay to purchase mechanics entice players in with bonus rewards such as new character skins, maps and weapons and have become quite the money spinner for major publishers.

CBR predicts that if the global online micro-transaction market continues to grow at the rate it is today, it's expected to make $34.59 billion in 2021.

These figures make for pleasant reading for game producers and studios, and it's no surprise then, that the amount of opportunities for gamers to indulge in micro-transactions has risen steadily over the past few years, but just how often are the general public interacting with them?

Research from gaming publication WePC found that over a third (33%) of UK gamers purchase a micro-transaction or loot box at least once a week, with nearly 1 in 10 (8%) spending over £100 on each purchase occasion. Younger gamers aged 16-24 admitted to spending £17 above the national average of £36. 

So they're making producers lots of money and the public are seemingly happy to interact with them, so what's the problem? That's where the issue of gambling comes into play.

A recent study from UK organisation "Be Gamble Aware" has revealed a link between the purchasing of loot boxes and an increase of behaviours associated with problem gambling. Whilst this would be an issue for adults in general, the report is more concerned with the impact it is having on children, with 40% of children in the UK believed to have opened a loot box whilst gaming.

The UK is currently debating whether to add further restrictions to the purchasing of loot boxes in video games. They would not be the first country to do this, in fact it was Japan who made the first steps towards regulation in this area back in 2012.

Japan's Consumer Affairs Agency ruled that "complete gacha" was to be made illegal.  Complete gacha is basically a loot box variation in which individuals pay to receive random reward.

So what do the UK public think?

WePC research found  that although a large majority of respondents (69%) agreed that loot boxes promote gambling to younger gamers, only 19% called for them to be banned altogether. Users felt that along with the age limit, a cap on the amount that could be spent (43%) and restrictions on the impact paid content has on core gameplay (26%) would be more effective.

Only time will tell as to what judgement the UK decides to bestow on loot boxes, but game publishers being able to proceed as they currently are seems unlikely. It's also doubtful that an outright ban will be implemented, so the gaming worlds cash cow could continue to limp on for a while yet.

What do you think? Do you believe loot boxes should be banned out right, or simply have limitations as to who can purchase them?

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