The UK government has responded to two questions posed by a Cambridge MP about loot boxes and gambling laws. It is a very very very very boring answer, and says basically nothing apart from highlighting current regulations about gambling. That’s not much of a surprise, although the speed at which the government has “answered” suggests an awareness that the issue of loot crates is smoldering upon the floor of the industry, like a flaming paper bag with a poo in it. Something might have to be done about it, sure, but nobody wants to volunteer their boot.
The questions and replies can be found here and here. Although it’s the same answer for both questions. Originally Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, asked the government what steps they planned to take “to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.” He also pointed out differences in the gambling laws of the Isle of Man, suggesting a model of reform for current UK laws.
The questions were directed at Tracey Crouch, minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Her department has responded dryly. They point out a paper already released by the Gambling Commission and repeat the current rules about requiring a gambling licence.
Where items obtained in a computer game can be traded or exchanged outside the game platform they acquire a monetary value, and where facilities for gambling with such items are offered to consumers located in Britain a Gambling Commission licence is required. If no licence is held, the Commission uses a wide range of regulatory powers to take action.
This is a simple re-statement of where the law draws a line, but also a wordy way of reminding everyone of past government action in the videogame industry. The implicit reference is to controversies like the gambling of CS:GO skins through third-party websites, and the recent case of the FIFA-playing YouTubers charged with gambling offences for using the in-game currency of FIFA coins. That the Gambling Commission recently took up arms in this way is also the most likely reason EVE Online banished its player-operated casinos which used the in-game currency of ISK.
However, the minister's answer says nothing about the selling of loot boxes by developers themselves.
“The government recognise the risks that come from increasing convergence between gambling and computer games,” the statement adds. “The Gambling Commission is keeping this matter under review and will continue to monitor developments in the market.”
In short, the statement is saying: here's the law, we've got the rules we need for now. But it also doesn't directly address the issue of the original questions, which the questioners themselves say they expected. The problem is unlikely to disappear, as loot crates and microtransactions find their way into more and more games, like Wardor and Star Wars: Battlefront II. The Gambling Commission has shown a willingness to invade videogameland before, like I say. It’s possible they will again, but not right now.