A UK Ministry Just Recommended Heavy Loot Box Regulation. Here's Why This Matters

A UK Ministry Just Recommended Heavy Loot Box Regulation. Here's Why This Matters

It's another step in an ongoing escalation of regulatory involvement in games.

In the UK, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published a report recommending the regulation of loot boxes under the Gambling Act. This would classify video game loot boxes as a game of chance, and additionally, the inquiry recommends removing loot boxes from games aimed at children and adding an age rating denoting games that have loot boxes.

According to Eurogamer, this move is not law by itself, but sources have told Eurogamer that the recommendations will be taken seriously. And while this only affects Europe and the UK for the moment, it's a movement on the needle of one of gaming's hottest topics right now: the monetization of games and the prevalence of loot boxes.

What does the recommendation mean?

In an 84-page report, the DCMS issues a number of recommendations. It says the UK government should bring regulations forward to label loot boxes as games of chance under the 2005 Gambling Act. The Gambling Commission had previously said loot boxes don't fall under current gambling legislation, though it left the door open a little; in a statement, the Commission chief executive Neil McCarthur says that "they are a lot like a lottery."

The DCMS report also recommends that the government work with PEGI, the European video game age rating organization, to incorporate loot box labels for game ratings and corresponding age limits. Also, the Committee says that in the absence any research proving no harm is done to children by exposing them to loot boxes, they should not be allowed in games played by children until proven otherwise.

The Committee also called for updated research into "gaming disorder," and that game companies should be required to share data with researches and contribute financially to independent research.

Loot boxes in legislation

While loot boxes have been around for more than a full console generation at this point, stretching back to games like Mass Effect 3, they are much more prevalent today. In the era of "forever games" like Apex Legends and Overwatch, alongside yearly sports installments like FIFA and Madden, loot boxes have become an effective tool for getting continuous investment from a player base while rolling out new content.

Yet the ways these games roll out content, sometimes in pretty brazen fashion, can seem like games of chance. You're often investing money for a chance at a cosmetic skin or player, rather than paying straight up for it. And while Apex and Dota 2 have introduced means for ensuring you don't run into duplicates or can directly purchase items, the systems themselves have stayed in place.

The proliferation of loot boxes, combined with the rampant popularity of games like Fortnite, has led to the random-roll drops getting attention from higher powers. A loot box bill has been filed to the US Senate, and even last year, the FTC pledged to investigate loot boxes amid an ongoing crackdown in Europe.

The UK recommendation still isn't an actionable law against the sale of loot boxes, but it is part of an escalation towards regulating them. It's a sign that, should the games industry not take action, other regulatory powers will.

What have publishers done about it?

In some cases, this has already spurred action on the side of publishers, developers, and console makers. Recently Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and a number of AAA developers united around the issue, pledging to disclose odds and probabilities.

Other developers have ditched the concept wholesale. Rocket League developer Psyonix has ditched its loot crate system, and Apex Legends developer Respawn addressed complaints over its recent Iron Crown event, which gated the purchase of an item behind buying other items.

What This Means for Loot Boxes

This is another step down the path toward wholesale regulation of loot boxes. While not as extreme as Belgium, which banned loot boxes entirely, it's another sign that governments see loot boxes as a problem and are prepared to act. This is especially big news for EA, as FIFA is dominant in the UK, and EA relies heavily on revenue from FIFA Ultimate Team.

EA isn't the publisher who should be watching how this all unfolds. Gacha-style games continue to be extremely popular too, and Nintendo has several of them on the market as we speak. It's hard to imagine Fire Emblem Heroes or Pokemon Masters ever ditching their monetization schemes.

But the recommendation from the UK's DCMS is a notable one, as it's another higher body with regulatory weight saying something needs to be done. As we move into a new console generation and continue to explore new methods of delivering and playing games, the way they're monetized will be under a great deal of scrutiny.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

Read this next

Apex Legends' Dropship Has Become a Fight Club With the Lights Turned Off

Lifeline mains, you're needed now more than ever.

Thank God Apex Legends Finally Has a Proper Training Mode

Apex Legends introduces a new training mode where you can finally test out every character.

Apex Legends Adds Another Use for its Most Pointless Currency

The latest update finally gives players another way to spend those Legend Tokens.

Jeff Kaplan Reveals What Convinced Blizzard to Go With Cross-Compatibility for Overwatch 2

Kaplan says not letting Overwatch "die on the vine" took some convincing.

BlizzCon 2019 is Blizzard's Most Crucial Show in Years

The wayward company has a chance to set its tone for the future, for better or worse.

Apex Legends Embraces the Buddy System With Limited-Time Duos Mode

Like Solos mode before it, Apex is giving two-person squads a spin.

More News

No More Finicky DualShock 4 Plugins on PC: Official Support Coming Thanks to Project xCloud

Play Xbox games… on a PC… with a PS4 controller. Really!

Xbox Head Says It's Learned Some Lessons For Scarlett From Xbox One's Launch

"...We will not be out of position on power or price."

Microsoft X019 Recap: A Flood of Games to Finish the Generation

At the generation wraps up, Microsoft goes big.

A Deluge of New Announcements for Xbox Game Pass Came Out of X019

The Witcher 3, Rage 2, classic Final Fantasy titles, and more.

More on PC

No More Finicky DualShock 4 Plugins on PC: Official Support Coming Thanks to Project xCloud

Play Xbox games… on a PC… with a PS4 controller. Really!

Microsoft X019 Recap: A Flood of Games to Finish the Generation

At the generation wraps up, Microsoft goes big.

A Deluge of New Announcements for Xbox Game Pass Came Out of X019

The Witcher 3, Rage 2, classic Final Fantasy titles, and more.

Obsidian CEO Says It Doesn't Plan On Expanding Too Much Under Microsoft

More resources doesn't mean Feargus Urquhart wants giant teams.

Grounded Impressions: Why Obsidian Fans Shouldn't Write Off This Quirky Passion Project Just Yet

An odd choice by Obsidian, but there's more than meets the eye here.

Obsidian Founder Feargus Urquhart, Whose Credits Include Fallout, Wants to be a Game Director Again

After years on the business side, founder Feargus Urquhart is ready to make games again.

Project xCloud’s Preview Selection Makes Stadia’s Launch Lineup Look Tiny

Dozens of games are coming for testers of Microsoft's game streaming service.

More Free-to-Play Games

Several Big Google Stadia Features Won't Go Live Until 2020

Family sharing, Android compatibility, and more are missing the launch window.

Pokemon Masters Roadmap Aims to Make the Game Actually Fun to Play

Pokemon Masters is about to use a Hyper Potion on its problems.

Team Rocket's Leaders Have Arrived in Pokemon Go, And It's Gonna Get Messy

I would walk 500 miles to witness a Pokemon soap opera.

Bungie Pleads With Idlers in New Destiny 2 Patch Notes: "Seriously, Just Play the Game"

Plus, there's another round of nerfs and new seriously robust subtitle options.