It seems like the UK has way too many officials who are being quoted on the subject of loot boxes in gaming. A few weeks ago, it was the digital minister, but now the people actually responsible for gambling law in the country are weighing in.
As reported by the BBC, two members of the UK Gambling Commission weighed in recently on the thorny subject of loot boxes. The commission’s programme director, Brad Enright, stated that “There is unquestionably a demand for a secondary market” for items such as FIFA’s player cards, posing the question to game developers, “we can see you have T&Cs [Terms and Conditions], what are you doing to apply them?” In other words, developers acknowledging that these types of things are illegal is all well and good, but unless they take action to shut down such illicit activities, it amounts to tacit approval.
The commission’s chief executive, Neil McCarthur, added that there were “significant concerns” about loot boxes, but that the legislation, as it’s currently written, did not define them as gambling, saying:
“There are other examples of things that look and feel like gambling that legislation tells you are not – [such as] some prize competitions but because they have free play or free entry they are not gambling… but they are a lot like a lottery.”
Enright added that he didn’t think it was up to the Gambling Commission to monitor video games, instead saying that “We think Valve in the US should do more.” (In that case, he’s probably talking more about skin betting in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and not players in packs for FIFA, which is made by Electronic Arts.)
I’ll just keep going back to my old piece about early mixed martial arts tournaments and how they weren’t boxing, and therefore couldn’t be regulated by the state’s boxing commission. Eventually, though, they were regulated, and sensibly so.
Officials in the UK might agree that loot boxes aren’t gambling, but that they “are a lot like a lottery” and they have “significant concerns” about them. Maybe the gambling commission won’t regulate them, but they could be covered by a different, or entirely new, government agency that might deal with them in a way that game developers don’t like very much.