The Entertainment Software Alliance (ESA), which represents a number of game companies, is opposing the UK decision to classify loot boxes as gambling.
Late last week, we brought you news that a group of UK MPs is proposing that loot boxes should be classified as gambling and banning the sale of them to children. On the surface, this doesn’t seem that unreasonable. After all, when you buy a loot box, generally, you are paying for the chance to get something good. So, from that perspective, preventing children from buying these items does make sense. This is given the fact that gambling is well known to have the potential to be addicting.
Of course, as we pointed out in our previous report, loot boxes from the game companies means seriously big money. Some gamers have been known to drop thousands per week on these loot boxes. For some game companies, these loot boxes have become a major cash cow. So, chances are, they are not going to give up on this so easily. This considering the fact that if they are forced to stop selling loot boxes to certain age groups, then that means money lost to them.
So, it probably comes as no surprise that the Entertainment Software Alliance (ESA) is coming out against the proposal. From Kitguru:
In a statement sent over to GI.biz, an ESA representative said that while the group takes the issues raised seriously, it also strongly disagrees with the UK’s findings:
“We take seriously the issues raised in the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report, but strongly disagree with its findings. As demonstrated by the recent announcement of policies regarding the disclosure of the relative rarity or probability of obtaining virtual items in paid loot boxes, as well as the robust parental controls that empower parents to control in-game purchases, the video game industry is a leader in partnering with parents and players to create enjoyable video game experiences”.
The statement goes on to add that “numerous regulatory bodies around the world” have come to a different conclusion in their own investigations.
For now, the DCMS is just recommending that Parliament tweak the UK Gambling Act to include in-game loot boxes, so there is no guarantee that such a move will come to fruition. With that in mind, we can expect to hear more about this in the months to come.
If regulatory bodies from other countries are saying that selling loot boxes to children or are not gambling, this is certainly the first time we’ve heard about it. On the contrary, we’ve seen at least one country that is going the other way by banning the sale of loot boxes. Earlier this month, the BBC reported that Belgium actually took steps to ban loot boxes. From the report at the time:
They’re popular in many games such as Fifa, Call of Duty and Apex Legends.
But it was Star Wars Battlefront II which kicked off the debate in Belgium.
The 2017 game was criticised by players because major characters such as Princess Leia and Darth Vader had to be unlocked through loot boxes.
The backlash led publisher EA to suspend in-game purchases.
Gamers were “actually pretty supportive of the ban,” says Belgian gaming journalist Ronald Meeus.
“Gamers tend to see it as something dishonest, and something that can create a competitive advantage inside the game.”
Is anything, the ESA is basically taking a page out of the playbook of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) from the years past. That is, whenever they are lobbying a country (like Canada, for example) to enact extreme copyright laws, they point to other countries. Sometimes, the argument is that the country is falling behind and that they need to keep up with international norms. Whether those international norms actually exist in the first place is another question entirely. This happened when there was a push to enact a so-called three strikes law in various countries, Internet censorship, and other highly questionable law proposals.
Still, it’s not exactly surprising that game companies are fighting to keep these loot box practices going. It is, after all, big money to them. So, the reaction to the UK proposal is not entirely surprising. It’s worth pointing out that this is a proposal and not actual legislation at this stage. So, it’ll be interesting to see where this debate heads to next. Either way, it would be a huge surprise if there wasn’t lobbying going on behind the scenes at this stage.