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Video Game loot boxes: EU laws are finally starting to crackdown

Despite Netherlands banning some loot boxes and Belgium banning all loot boxes, the jury is still out as to whether other European nations and America will follow suit.

Controversial video game loot boxes have barely been out of the news headlines over the past 18 months yet a decision as to whether they should be allowed within video games does not look like coming anytime soon.

Some of the biggest video game companies in the world, including Blizzard, Valve and Electronic Arts (EA) use loot boxes in their video games. For those of you who still do not know, loot boxes are consumable virtual in-game items which can be redeemed in order to receive further virtual items. Loot boxes will often contain virtual items ranging from extremely common to extremely rare, it is the chance of receiving a rare item that keeps players coming back for more. Often loot boxes are available to be purchased via real world money, wherein lies the problem and it is for this reason why there are calls across the world for loot boxes to be banned.

Why the EU needs to step forward

It has been reported that loot boxes can cause users to have impulse control problems. Some video game players have stated that they have had to get into contact with and ask the developers of their favourite games to ban them from being able to purchase loot boxes. Reddit is littered with stories of loot box addictions and people admitting to spending more money than they can afford on video game loot boxes.

Loot boxes are certainly virtual and voluntary, yet they also initiate similar mechanics that you would find at a casino or on a slot machine. Defenders of loot boxes and microtransactions within video games argue that rather than banning them completely, video game companies need to enforce better control settings for microtransactions so that children cannot easily access them. It is important that there is more parental involvement, they argue.

On the other hand, there are other reasons why video gamers want loot boxes banned – the pay-to-win factor. Pay-to-win is a term coined when players are able to pay real money for special items resulting in those players that are willing to pay real money gain an advantage over players playing for free who need to spend more time progressing through the game in order to unlock said special items. The ability to be able to pay real money to get better in-game items was first added to free-to-play games. Gamers could play the games for free for as long as they wanted with the option of using real money to progress faster in the game, if they chose to do so. The games companies themselves would make their money from players purchasing in-game items seeing as the actual game was free to download and play. However, game developers such as EA have begun implementing the play-to-win system in video games that already cost up to £50 to purchase straight off – Star Wars Battlefront is an example of this.

Gambling or not?

To put simply, loot boxes provide the prospect of losing all your money for the risk of earning what is essentially worthless data. Unsurprisingly, corporate greed is to blame, and the EU should be looking very serious at these gaming companies in order to protect consumers. Video gaming has become one of the largest hobbies in the world. Hundreds of millions of people play video games daily whilst the industry itself is worth billions. There are rumours that competitive video gaming aka esports are set to be introduced into the Olympics in order to bring the games into the 21st century whilst by 2020 it is predicted that esports will generate over $1 billion in global revenue. The biggest esports games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) have their own betting websites such is their popularity, whether or not these websites should exist, remains to be seen. CS:GO has also had its fair share of controversy though in terms of loot boxes. Dozens of CS:GO skin betting websites were shut down by the games creator Valve as users were allowed to bet real money on a pot of their CS:GO items. Many of these sites still exist however, and regulators want both the video games industry and technology platforms to crack down on these websites.

If the world woke up tomorrow and loot boxes were considered as a form of gambling by all governments of the world then the industry would lose literally billions of pounds in revenue overnight. In the USA, especially, where online gambling transactions are illegal, this would be disastrous for multiple video game companies.

Is the issue close to being resolved?

Unfortunately not. As aforementioned, the Belgian government has banned loot boxes and other countries such as the Netherlands and the UK have ordered games companies to reveal to players the official probability in terms of a percentage – this is certainly a step in the right direction. However, video game company lobbying efforts continue to curve efforts to regulate the industry. It is not in the best interests of video gaming companies to remove loot boxes and the microtransactions aspect that have been implemented into video games because of the huge profit that they make form them. Video game companies are extremely stubborn, EA initially refused the Belgian governments order to remove loot boxes from their FIFA 19 title. Whether or not these companies will take notice if players continue to complain though remains to be seen. However, the likelihood is that restrictions will come into place eventually but it is not yet clear how harsh these restrictions will be for video game companies.

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