The walls seem to be closing in on loot boxes and digital football cards. Just last week, the Belgian gaming commission declared that EA are under criminal investigation after refusing to cut paid loot boxes from the FIFA series. Now, sixteen gambling regulators around the world (mostly Europe, but Washington State are involved) have made a joint declaration that there’s something rotten in the state of videogames. Loot boxes, skin gambling, “social casino gaming” and more are now under their scrutiny, according to the British Gambling Commission and other signatories.
These sixteen gambling regulators are voicing their concerns as a unified front, although aren’t going to start cracking down yet. While I’m no expert on international gambling law, the full declaration here (in PDF format) reads like a warning to me – ‘Get it together by yourselves now, or we’ll have to do this the hard way’ material, especially in this part of the declaration:
“We anticipate that it will be in the interest of these companies whose platforms or games are prompting concern, to engage with [gambling] regulatory authorities to develop possible solutions.”
Timely, given EA’s recent scuffle with the law in Belgium. With any luck, studios will rein things in by themselves without having to escalate to an open legal battle. Of course, that mostly applies to loot boxes and the issue of skin gambling (which sounds really sinister when taken out of context) is another thorny issue entirely, involving third party websites. Washington State’s gambling authority came down hard on Valve in 2016, stating that they had to find a way to shut down third-party gambling or face legal action and shifting laws.
The declaration perhaps signals a change in attitude from British authorities. When questioned about it last year, the British government’s response was almost impressively noncommittal. While no hard changes have come, the winds of change seem to be blowing towards less chance-driven ways of monetising games. The recent rise of cosmetic season passes for competitive games seems to be a preemptive response to this. Given how quickly things seem to be moving now, will loot boxes be a largely forgotten phenomenon by 2020? It seems almost plausible.