Gambling or Gaming? The Fate of Loot Boxes in 2019

The controversy surrounding loot boxes hit its peak once EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II was released amidst a load of backlash. However, this response from players ended up prompting something that many people didn’t expect; Governments were now looking into whether or not they were gambling.

On top of this, if they found so, then many governments would begin regulating loot boxes the same as any other form of gambling. Belgium came with one of the biggest surprises, and ruled that loot boxes are indeed a form of gambling. Because of that, it seemed that many other countries would follow suit, using Belgium as a precedent.

However, that hasn’t been the case so far; even the Irish government has decided the contrary; in late September and early October 2018, David Stanton, minister of state in the Department of Justice, told the Senate that loot boxes don’t fall under the jurisdiction of gambling. Because of that, many developers could continue releasing their games as-is, without needing to change the mechanics surrounding loot crates.



However, that still leaves open the question as to what kind of effect gambling laws can have on loot crates?

Granted it could still be years before these kinds of laws have a discernible effect, but there are some clear implications for the future. After all, laws have always taken a while to catch up with technology, but it does end up actually catching up. But, what are the potential effects of these laws on loot crates?

Calls for loot boxes to have heavier regulation have used the more traditional definition of gambling in order to have more regulations in place for it. Because of that, many would agree that it fulfills the major points of gambling, namely:

  • It Needs Consideration; in short, something of value needs to be given in order to place a bet, as it were. While this is traditionally money, it can be anything of value that both sides agree on.
  • It Involves Chance; any form of gambling involves chance, either of winning of losing.
  • There’s A Prize; at the end of the ‘bet,’ there must be some form of a prize.

Loot boxes fit each of these, with the only real issue being whether or not chance is actually involved. After all, most casinos and other betting outlets have a decent chance that you can walk away with nothing. In loot crates, however, players always walk away with something. This is the argument that many defendants would use when arguing that loot boxes aren’t actual gambling, and many governments have seemingly believed that.

Loot boxes themselves have had somewhat of a tough ride over the past few years; not long after Belgium began investigating Fifa’s loot boxes, gambling regulators from more than a dozen European countries and one from the United States launched an investigation to “address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling.”

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Launched at the 2018 Gambling Regulators European Forum, it includes signatories from the UK, France, Ireland and Spain. According to a number of reports, the regulators stated games providers must “ensure that features within games, such as loot boxes, do not constitute gambling under national laws.”

These efforts appear to be aimed at ensuring consumer protection and the safety of children online, which also seems to be the case with many other investigations into the practice. This investigation is also symptomatic of a growing crackdown on loot boxes which shows no sign of slowing down.

While previous attempts to regulate loot boxes hasn’t been too effective in enacting wide-spread change. However, with these countries coming together, it’s starting to look as if we may be on the brink of a complete removal or redesign of loot boxes.


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