In order to curb gambling addiction in students and young people, MPs have called for the widespread regulation of video games, which includes banning their sale to children.
A report released by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee found that loot boxes, which often allow gamers to spend real money for the chance of winning in-game perks, are exempt from regulation. Loot boxes share similar mechanics to other gambling devices, which are banned from children under the Gambling Act 2005.
The call by MPs to regulate loot boxes comes in response to the worrying increase of children and students who gamble. A 2018 study by the Gambling Commission revealed that the number of children classed as having a gambling problem has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years, while also suggesting that more than 450,000 young people gamble on a regular basis.
The committee’s report into immersive and addictive technologies, which was published last Thursday, shows a strong correlation between virtual betting within video games and the development of gambling addiction later on in life.
A study cited in the report identified a link between the amount that gamers spend on loot boxes and their score on the Problem Gambling Severity Index, the standardised measure of at-risk behaviour in people experiencing problem gambling, the uncontrollable urge to gamble continuously.
The study, which examined more than 7,000 gamers, identified that “gambling-like features of loot boxes are specifically responsible for the observed relationship between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes.” Another study also observed that the link between in-game spending on loot boxes and problem gambling among adolescents was more than twice as strong as the relationship observed in adults.
Damian Collins MP, chair of the committee, places the blame on video game organisations for not doing enough to tackle the issue, underlining their “relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money.”
According to the Safer Online Gambling Group, loot boxes and in-game purchases cost Britain over £270 million each year. Currently, the video game industry relies only on self-regulation tools like age-verification, to prevent addiction. Video game developers are also reluctant to acknowledge the issue at hand. EA, well known for implementing loot boxes in its games, refused to compare loot boxes to gambling, instead comparing it to harmless Kinder Eggs.
The UK is not the only country attempting to tackle the issue. Belgium is one of the few countries where gambling regulation includes loot boxes. In April 2018, the Belgian Gambling Commission ordered video game publishers to remove loot boxes, or face an €800,000 fee, leading to high-profile businesses like Valve and Nintendo restricting loot box content in their games. In May 2019, a US Senator also called for loot boxes to be regulated, claiming, “game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetise addiction.” MPs may well regulate the video game industry to help end the rise in gambling addiction.
Image: Ralf Steinberger via Flickr