Loot boxes have been thrust into the public spotlight, with a Labour Party MP submitting questions to parliament relating to the divisive virtual item.
Daniel Zeichner, the MP for Cambridge, asked Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley what steps she plans to take to “help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games”.
Defined as “a consumable virtual item in a video game which can be redeemed to receive a randomised selection of further virtual items”, loot boxes are a highly contentious addition to the gaming world, and are already regulated under gambling law in some Asian countries.
The questions come on the back of an Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ruling that stopped short of placing loot boxes in their “Real Gambling” category, instead defining them as “Simulated Gambling”, which means games that contain them do not have to be accompanied by an Adults Only (AO) rating.
An ESRB spokesperson expanded on the decision, telling video game website Kotaku, “ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling.
“While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want).
“We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”
Yet many of these virtual items sell for hundreds of dollars on platforms like the Steam Marketplace, and several figures from within the gaming world have voiced their opposition to the ruling.
Influential Youtuber John Bain, also known as “Totalbiscuit”, argued in one of his recent videos: “Look if you include these kind of mechanics in these games and you actually allow people to buy these packs for real money – these random blind packs – and engage in what is essentially a form of gambling, then you should be jacking the rating of your game up to Mature.
“The fact that [Star Wars] Battlefront II is going to be teen rated and yet has an in-game real money gambling system blows my mind. How are they possibly getting away with that?”.
An online petition to Parliament has also surpassed the 10,000 signature mark, as the question marks hanging over loot boxes refuse to evaporate.