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Should loot boxes be banned in the UK?

Published on January 18, 2020, 4:38 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

Loot boxes have been a hot topic in the past few years. Both the general public and legislative houses of the government in the UK are debating whether playing loot boxes is gambling or not. The big question, though, is whether loot boxes negatively affect a child given their addictive nature.

In September 2019, the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee concluded that buying or selling of loot boxes should be considered gambling. This, therefore, means that any transaction involving a loot box should be regulated under the UK Gambling Act. According to the Immersive and Addictive Technologies Report released earlier in that month, several recommendations were made, among them the protection of vulnerable players.

Report on loot boxes by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Part of the report on immersive and additive technologies (including loot boxes) by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

What are loot boxes?

A loot box is a blind box that has numerous virtual items that can be earned by naturally playing a videogame bought using in-game currency or by using real money. The games' microtransactions are tailored in such a way as to psychologically lure players into using fiat or in-game currency to buy virtual items rather than earn the same through gameplay.

A common way to purchase loot boxes is when time-sensitive rare items are offered to players at lower rates than if the players earned the items playing naturally. The loot boxes can also be acquired by offering high-value bundle deals that players can only buy with real money.

The gambling debate surrounding loot boxes

Loot boxes came under scrutiny when some people alleged that they offer players social casino-style games that offer the players a 'traditional casino feeling' and yet they aren't licensed as gambling entities. While the overall loot box might not be designed to be a gambling entity, there are predominant features about them that are blamed for causing gambling addiction among the UK public, especially children.

Typical content inside a loot box
A typical content that you can find inside a loot box

In 2018, a Gambling Commission survey found that 31% of young persons aged between 11 and 16 years had paid real money or have used in-game virtual items to open loot boxes. Typically, the contents of loot boxes remain unknown to the player even at the point of purchase. This then means that what you get as a player is solely based on chance. Some games even afford the player a chance to win differing amounts of gems in roulette-style mini-games for further game advancement. These are just a few of the features that are seen by the parliament to cause gambling addiction.

Relationship between loot boxes and gambling

Loot boxes present players with gambling-like features that the designers have not acknowledged as such. According to the MPs, the Department for Digital, Media, and Sport should establish a scientific group to collate the new found loot boxes' evidence with gambling-like mechanics in online games. The findings of this group will help the parliament and the government to establish the relationship between loot boxes and other games, which will then be used to formulate the government's online harms legislation.

Given the susceptibility of children to online games and gambling, parliament recommended that since an element of chance is found in many loot boxes games, they should not be sold to children. The in-game credits found in these games should, therefore, be earned by playing the game.

Is it right to ban loot boxes?

There's insurmountable evidence indicating that loot boxes are indeed addictive, especially to persons susceptible to gambling habits and children. To this end, the parliament committee recommended that these games should not feature the 'gambling elements' until the working group mandated with finding hard evidence of the relationship between the games and gambling finalizes its findings.

An accurate explanation on loot boxes, on their functioning and their correlation with gambling

While the working group is working, people can still play their loot boxes, but the gambling features will not be available. The UK gaming industry has been changing over the years, thanks to increased innovativeness and accessibility to the internet.

According to Dr. Drummond and Dr. Sauer, experts in human psychology and gambling matters in the UK, playing loot boxes could have short-term effects such as overspending as well as long-term consequences such as offering players a transitioning platform to migrate to conventional gambling. Academics across the country, however, agree that there isn't enough evidence that can be used to make a blanket decision on whether loot boxes cause a gambling problem or not.


In the recent past, playing loot boxes has become similar to gambling on real casino sites like Ladbrokes or 32 casino. Some MPs have recommended that in-game purchases where the players don't know what's in the box until they buy it should be banned, at least for persons under 18 years. Gamers and publishers such as EA are supporting this move. The UK will not be the first to ban loot boxes as Belgium has already taken the first step towards regulating how loot boxes operate.


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