UPDATE: Aaaaaand, the results are in. The UK Gambling Commission has been busy with an inquiry into whether surprise mechanics loot boxes constitute gambling and, well, it's either good news or bad news depending on your love of loot boxes.
The UK Gambling Commission has deemed that loot boxes and randomised content packs don't constitute gambling. The reasoning for this? They suggest there is no 'official' way to monetise the contents of a loot box, and in order for something to constitute as gambling then it needs to be possible to both win and lose cash.
Clearly, the UK Gambling Commission hasn't spent too much time investigating the litany of sites where you can sell your FIFA Ultimate Team cards, or the numerous ways in which you can extract cold, hard cash from your Steam inventory. They do acknowledge all of this is possible but, as there is no official market to sell digital goods, it does fall under gambling legislation.
"There is unquestionably a demand for a secondary market," said Brad Enright, Gambling Commission programme director. “Our understanding is that EA has a constant battle and a team working on disrupting and preventing people doing it. The Committee may have had an example drawn to its attention, but what we are saying is there is not a sustained secondary market that will always be available.”
That sounds like a cop-out if ever we've heard one, but it certainly sounds as if games publishers are still skating on thin ice. In particular, the Gambling Commission isn't pleased with Valve's efforts:
"Where we have drawn their attention to British consumers, including children, taking part in gambling, they have closed [skin betting sites] down," continued Enright. "We think Valve in the US should do more", referring specifically to skin better in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
We would imagine the Gambling Commission's war is now with the skin betting sites themselves rather than the likes of EA and Activision.
Original Story: 20-Jun-2019 - They're not loot boxes, they're 'surprise mechanics' says EA in UK Government meeting
Loot boxes have entered that most hallowed of halls - the UK Parliament. When they’re not busy squabbling like rambunctious schoolchildren, they also lend an occasional ear to a societal issue or two. Kerry Hopkins, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, met with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee to discuss loot crates following recent public outcry at their potentially dangerous pay-to-win gambling mechanics.
Only, EA and Hopkins don’t like to refer to these things as loot boxes, or loot crates. No, they’re “surprise mechanics”. Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a spin doctor.
These ‘surprise mechanics’ are harmless, according to Electronic Arts’ very own Kerry Hopkins. In fact, they’re no different to toys that have been around for years, “whether it’s Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise.” Pay-to-win player packs in FIFA 19 sound like a very different proposition to ‘which toy am I going to get’.
“We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics – and FIFA, of course, is our big one, our FIFA Ultimate Team and our packs – is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people,” continued Hopkins, seemingly oblivious to the fact gambling is often both fun and enjoyable, with lashings of addiction thrown in for good measure. She’s not oblivious though, is she, she’s a suit whose only interest is in preserving EA’s bottom line.
Humans have demonstrated many a time over the years that we can be addicted to something that is both fun and harmful to us, it’s not exactly a wild new concept *puts down crack pipe*. Ethical though, in a game marketed for ages three and up in the UK? Well, that would be a matter of some debate.
And, the final kicker - EA agrees with the two commissions which came to the conclusion this doesn’t constitute gambling, and disagrees with any evidence provided that shows it does lead to gambling. Why of course. “We do agree with the UK gambling commission, the Australian gambling commission, and many other gambling commissions that they aren’t gambling, and we also disagree that there’s evidence that shows it leads to gambling,” finished up Kerry ‘cherry-picked facts’ Hopkins. “Instead we think it’s like many other products that people enjoy in a healthy way, and like the element of surprise.” By definition, this means EA disagrees with both the Belgian and Dutch authorities which deemed loot boxes as gambling.
The investigation rumbles on then, and it remains to be seen whether the UK government will implement any legislative control over loot boxes and assorted gatcha mechanics. We very much doubt many members of the UK government are clued in whatsoever on what loot boxes even are, let alone their potential effects, so we're not exactly holding our breath.
If you're a glutton for punishment then you can see the entire 2.5-hour meeting for yourself here. It involves a sit-down with various folks from EA and Epic. Godspeed.