The link between video games and gambling is growing, especially with the rise of loot boxes and randomised purchases that take the control away from gamers putting down their cash. Therefore, local government bodies like the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) are looking into the legal positioning of loot boxes more frequently, as well as the actions that can be taken to make them safer.
Why is UKGC concerned about video gaming risks?
The UKGC's primary concerns around video gaming stem from the proliferation of loot boxes. While these random in-game boxes contain random contents of varying value and rarity, under legal terms they aren't yet classed as gambling. It's a slippery slope, because the UK Parliament, rather than the UKGC, defines what actually constitutes 'gambling’.
As per a 2017 report from UKGC, quantifying loot boxes as a form of gambling is difficult due to the wider context of these items. In FIFA, for example, you can spend real money on packs to get players, but there isn't a way to cash in and get real-life money back. That differs from regular online and casino-based gambling, where the prize is ultimately more money, rather than high-quality in-game rewards.
That said, the UKGC certainly has loot boxes in its sights. In that same 2017 report it expressed "[concern] with the growth in examples where the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred," promising to take action if loot boxes fall into the latter category.
This seems like an increasingly likely scenario, after a July 2022 UK Government inquiry into loot boxes called for them to be unavailable to children, unless granted permission by a parent or guardian. That said, the UKGC acknowledges that the 2005 Gambling Act doesn't cover loot boxes, which makes it more difficult to legislate against. Regardless, the UKGC is firm in looking at loot boxes as a serious concern.
How can GamStop be integrated into video gaming?
While the presence of such legislative red tape makes it difficult for government bodies to explicitly rule against the presence of loot boxes in gaming, independent groups are still able to make a difference. GamStop is one of those major players: a not-for-profit organisation operated by The National Online Self-Exclusion Scheme Limited, which already does crucial work in combating online gambling addiction.
At present, GamStop is used to let vulnerable players opt-in to an API that prevents them from using their email address and personal details to sign into gambling websites. While there are still UK casinos not on GamStop, it's an effective way for players to limit their activity that could easily carry over into the gaming space.
For example, gaming companies could opt into collaborating with the UKGC and GamStop, to integrate this preventative system into games marketplaces and loot box stores. This would ensure players are restricted from purchasing these random in-game items if they so wish, using the GamStop API to streamline the process and ensure they don't need to fill their details into every single game with loot boxes.
How can video game developers work with the UKGC?
Of course, video game developers could expedite this process by baking anti-gambling measures directly into their games. It would be difficult to standardise across national governing bodies given each game's global release, but if developers communicated directly with groups like the UKGC, these features could automatically be implemented.
This could range from age checks on games containing loot boxes, with the requirement of government-issued ID to purchase boxes, to limits that prevent players from spending a set amount of money.
The options are out there, but the only sticking point is the lack of standardisation across governments worldwide in terms of their approaches to video game gambling. That said, developer outreach to these bodies, with a view to making their games safer for players, would be a huge step that doesn't even require the opt-in function of GamStop.
Evidently, there is still a long way to go before loot boxes in gaming are concretely made safe for vulnerable or young gamers. However, it's heartening to see that bodies like the UKGC are seriously looking into the risks of video gaming, while there are also third-party options like GamStop to keep gaming habits safe.