The government is asking for the public’s opinion about the impact of loot boxes in video games, in an eight-week consultation.
Loot boxes are a controversial feature of many video games – both console and mobile.
When a player purchases a loot box, they only find out what is inside it once they have paid.
It may contain a digital prize that’s valuable within the game, but equally it may contain nothing useful.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wants to hear from players, and the parents and guardians of young players. It is also interested in research carried out by academics and video games companies.
The deadline for submitting views is 22 November.
Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture, said the addition of tools such as time limits, set up via parental controls, was helpful.
“But we’ve listened to parents’ concerns about loot boxes and it’s right that we fully examine and understand any evidence of the harm or links to problem gambling they can cause, so we can decide if action is needed.”
In Belgium, loot boxes which have to be purchased with real money, rather than earned through game play, were banned in 2018.
The following year, Fortnite made its lootboxes see-through so that players knew what they were buying in advance.
Loot boxes have divided opinion for a very long time. For many players they’re a bit of fun, a small investment that may have a big reward in terms of increasing their enjoyment of the game.
But I’ve heard from dozens of parents, distraught that their children have emptied their bank accounts buying box after box, in the hope of getting that elusive bit of digital kit to help them progress up the ranks – whether it’s in the form of a virtual top football player, or a killer weapon.
I’ve also heard from adults who find themselves sliding into debt, unable to resist “just one more” attempt at that digital lucky dip.
In the UK, the House of Lords called in July for loot boxes to be classified as “games of chance” under the 2005 Gambling Act.
“If a product looks like gambling and feels like gambling, it should be regulated as gambling,” its report said.
So far though, it isn’t. The Gambling Commission says this is because what’s inside the boxes is neither cold hard cash nor has actual monetary value.
But there are third-party sites where the prizes can be bought and sold, or gambled for money, even though it is prohibited by the games’ publishers – this is known as skin betting.