Loot box controversy deepens on both sides of the Atlantic

Star Wars Battlefront 2

The controversy surrounding loot boxes in video games is gathering pace, with a new survey in the UK showing that the majority of people believe that they count as gambling – and should be regulated as such – while further flak has been fired at these mechanisms by politician Chris Lee over in the US.

As highlighted by VentureBeat, a recent online survey conducted in the UK found that 60% of respondents believed that loot boxes should be regulated as gambling (and obviously enough, the remaining 40% felt they weren’t gambling and shouldn’t be regulated).

In short, more Brits believe loot boxes count as ‘proper’ gambling in the same vein as pushing the buttons on a slot machine.

And over in the US, Chris Lee, state representative for Hawaii, is pushing bills which, among other measures, aim to impose restrictions on video games that have ‘gambling-like mechanisms’ (along the lines of loot boxes) so they can’t be sold to under-21s.

Talking ’bout my generation

At the start of this week, Lee told Gamespot that he believes the time is now right for this regulation to be enforced because the US is in the midst of what he describes as a generational transition, whereby lawmakers and other authorities now better understand video games.

Lee commented: “I think it is inevitable that, whether it was spurred by [Star Wars] Battlefront or some of the recent big-title games just being so ridiculously exploitative of the player base, there is enough of generational transition in politics and positions of authority around the country and the world, that you have people who understand what the industry is doing and are willing to stand up and take action and do something about it. Inevitably, the industry will have to change.”

He further observed that more jurisdictions would start protecting people from what he describes as ‘exploitative and predatory practices’.

Lee used very similar language in his arguments against the likes of loot boxes back in December, where he cited the example of a sword which cost $200 in a video game.

Lee noted that it’s fine to sell this in-game sword for such an (albeit extortionate) amount, but what wouldn’t be okay is to sell a percentage chance to win that sword. The difference being that the former is a transaction, but with the latter, you’re only buying a chance at potentially obtaining something, which makes this ‘gambling’.

Lee’s bill would only affect Hawaii, but other states have similar legislation vying for introduction. Meanwhile, the Entertainment Software Association is arguing for self-regulation of the industry, rather than governmental control.

As we’ve previously discussed, loot boxes and in-game purchases are really part of a more general shift we’re seeing across the computing world, as all software moves towards a ‘service’ subscription model rather than an upfront fee (a prominent example would be Microsoft pushing folks towards Office 365 rather than the standalone Office 2016).

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).