UK government responds to loot box concerns (Updated)

Update: Last week, Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner's submitted two questions on the subject of loot boxes and in-game gambling to Karen Bradley—the UK government's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

As reported by Eurogamer, Conservative MP and former Culture, Media and Sport committee member Tracey Crouch has now provided the following response to both of Zeichner's queries: 

The Gambling Commission released a position paper in March 2017 detailing existing protections in place for in-game gambling, virtual currencies and loot boxes. The paper can be found on the Commission’s website at [this] link. 

Where items obtained in a computer game can be traded or exchanged outside the game platform they acquire a monetary value, and where facilities for gambling with such items are offered to consumers located in Britain a Gambling Commission licence is required. If no licence is held, the Commission uses a wide range of regulatory powers to take action.

Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling is one of the core objectives of the regulation of gambling in Great Britain and a priority for the government. The Gambling Commission have a range of regulatory powers to take action where illegal gambling is taking place. Earlier this year the Gambling Commission successfully prosecuted the operators of a website providing illegal gambling facilities for in-game items which was accessible to children—the first regulator in the world to bring such an action.

The government recognise the risks that come from increasing convergence between gambling and computer games. The Gambling Commission is keeping this matter under review and will continue to monitor developments in the market.

Vague as it may be, Crouch's response does not address Connor Rhys Deeley's ongoing petition (detailed below in our original story). Petitions which exceed 10,000 signatures—at the time of writing, this one has 12,228—must be acknowledged by the UK government. We'll update you when they do.  

Original story: 

Loot boxes have come up rather a lot during the last few weeks, playing various roles in the likes of Shadow of War and Battlefront 2 to a pretty heated response. This has prompted a lot of conversation about whether they count as a form of gambling—now, the UK government will be forced to respond to a petition that asks for gambling laws to adapt around games with "mechanics which are essentially gambling", as highlighted by Eurogamer. In addition, Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner has submitted two questions to Karen Bradley, the UK's Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport on the same subject.

The petition, raised by Connor Rhys Deeley, specifically calls out loot boxes, and has over 11,000 signatures so far. 10,000 were needed to guarantee a response by the government. Here is the petition in full: "Many video game companies in recent years have introduced mechanics which are essentially gambling of which are targeted at children and vulnerable adults. While not currently considers gambling by law they do copy many traits to make them as addictive and can lead to real money being lost/earned."

"Gambling in video games mostly involves 'loot boxes' where players use virtual currency (often bought with real money) to earn in game items often worth less than what they paid (sometimes more) hence its gambling.

"Currently only china has introduced new laws to force companies to display the odds of winning which had been standard in the uk gambling industry for years." The government will now be forced to respond, and the petition page will be updated when it does. In order for the subject to be considered for debate in parliament, the petition needs 100,000 signatures from UK residents. 

In addition, Zeichner's two questions explore the same subject. Here's the first: "To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps she plans to take to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games."

The second asks if the UK should explore offering similar protective laws to the Isle of Man (which I've never visited, but I hear Jeremy Clarkson lives there): "To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the Isle of Man's enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes; and what discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on adopting such protections in the UK." Both questions came at the behest of Cambridge resident Artfunkel, who posted about how it came to be on Reddit

Where all of this leads, we'll update you. Some clarification on the current government's view might be enlightening, if nothing else. Meanwhile, both PEGI and ESRB decided not to call loot boxes and similar schemes 'gambling'—in PEGI's case, they make the point that it's up to the government to make the laws, and that it's not their place to decide what does and doesn't count as gambling. 

Until next time, then, here's our discussion on whether loot boxes have reached a tipping point, plus Alex Wiltshire's excellent feature on the addictive psychology behind buying them

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.