‘Step in the right direction’: EPIC praises Ukie’s loot box guidance

EPIC: Loot box ‘gambling mechanisms’ still present in EA Sports’ FC 24

The consumer protection challenges of loot boxes remain present in EA Sports’ rebranded flagship football title, EPIC Risk Management has asserted.

EA Sports FC 24 is the new incarnation of the long-running FIFA franchise, rebranded after EA Sports failed to agree terms with  the global governing body of association football.

The presence of loot boxes in video games has been a controversial topic for many years, although the debate around these features intensified – as did many other discussions – during the Gambling Act review.

Loot boxes in FIFA have been a particular focus of this debate, although the products are present in other titles such as CS:GO, a popular esports – and by extension esports betting – product.

EPIC noted that FIFA/FC 24 loot boxes are prominent in the Ultimate Team segment of the game in the form of ‘player packs’, where gamers purchase a pack containing unknown players based on the chance some high-ranked footballers could be included.

The gambling harm consultancy believes that the requirement for players to spend money for a potential reward meansthe existence of loot boxes in the new incarnation of FIFA means ‘gambling mechanisms’ are still being built into the game.

Dan Sproson, EPIC’s Head of Safer Gambling, explained: “We know that people all over the world will enjoy playing the game, but they need to be aware – especially parents who will be allowing their children to play unsupervised – of the ‘loot boxes’ within the game, in this instance the ‘player packs’ that this game offers.

“In the UK currently, loot boxes are still not considered a form of gambling, albeit there have been moves in recent months to try and regulate their access to children as the general consensus starts to move in that direction. 

“Make no mistake, it is gambling. It’s the act of placing money towards a desired outcome where you’re not guaranteed to get something of the value you’ve committed. The only loophole it goes through with loot boxes is that you always get something out of them, whereas with other forms of gambling, it’s win or lose.”

The loot box debate has caught the attention of relevant authorities over the past two years, it should be noted. Notably, UK games industry trade body UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) and the DCMS co-developed and launched new guidelines around the features earlier this year.

The new guidance encouraged better spending controls, provision of transparent information, and greater use of tech-led controls to prevent individuals under 18 from acquiring a paid loot box without parental or guardian consent or knowledge, and were welcomed by EPIC.

However, based on its research, EPIC believes that a ‘clear link between spending money on loot boxes and on other in-game purchases’ is present, particularly among young people.

The group’s survey of 3,248 students aged 14-19 from both state and private schools found that 52% believe spending money on in-game purchases is harmful and 19% are unsure whether this is the case.

However, despite this mindset, 41% reported having bought loot boxes and 61% stated they had purchased other items or products using real money, and overall 85% of those who bought a loot box also said that they had spent money on other in-game purchases.

Concluding, Sproson drew parallels between lot boxes and slot games, observing that “ where you could put £10 in and win 15p; you’ve won by definition because you’ve come away with something, but you’ve lost because you’re down overall”.

He continued: “Loot boxes are exactly the same, because you might want that legendary or mythical item, the best one you can get, and commit to the spend accordingly, but the chances are you’re going to get a lower-end value item instead. 

“That’s where you can see that there isn’t a difference between loot boxes and other gambling mechanisms, and people will continue to spend the money chasing those hidden items that they really want but rarely getting the value of product in return.”

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