“In video games, a loot box is an in-game purchase consisting of a virtual container that awards players with items and modifications based on chance. Loot boxes are considered to be a type of microtransaction.” In more simple terms, a loot box is a game of chance, where the player pays for a chance to win a reward in a game. A good example is in FIFA, where players can spend anywhere up to €21 for the chance to win a certain player they are after. This aspect of the game is often referred to as ‘pay-to-win’, meaning that the game rewards higher spending above greater skill in their games. These ‘micro-transactions’ are commonly seen in mobile games, where gameplay is limited either time, or speed wise. A lack of any sort of age limit has meant that these loot boxes were fully accessible by children from the age of 3.
If we are to look at another field of chance in Ireland, we can see that in Irish gambling law, the definition of playing a game of chance or “gaming” is, “playing a game (whether of skill or chance or partly of skill and partly of chance) for a monetary prize or other form of reward.” To go along with this, the definition of a bet: “to make a wager”. Of course, the age restriction for gambling in Ireland is 18 years, and this includes gaming in Casinos, bookies, race-tracks and on gambling machines. To attempt to separate loot boxes from any other form of gambling in Ireland is very difficult, but it is something that has been done in recent months by the Principal Officer of Gambling in Ireland, however certain aspects of his responses seem to suggest a lack of understanding of what they truly are. The fact that the reward does not involve a direct monetary reward in a recognised currency seems to have contributed to the fact that this aspect of gaming has often not been acknowledged.
Despite this perceived lack of understanding from certain bodies, in the past week, Ireland has signed into an international declaration expressing concern about gambling in video games. Correlations between gambling habits and loot boxes had led to concerns being raised. This year both Dutch and Belgian authorities declared some loot box systems to be illegal gambling and compelled major game developers to remove such features in games sold in the country. The Gaming Regulators European Forum initiative, signed by 14 European regulators and the Washington State Gambling Commission in the US, aims to protect players from the “blurring of lines” between gambling and gaming. In Belgium, game publishers who fail to remove certain loot boxes could receive a five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to €800,000.
Examples of how addictive these sorts of loot boxes, 3 years ago, a father discovered a ridiculous $7,625.88 in charges from Xbox Live, charges which were all accumulated over a single month, all generated through microtransaction purchases in FIFA. The child in question was 17 years old, so of course here, he should have known better, but to allow children from the age of 3 to have access to the risk of spending this much is far from responsible. Just weeks before that FIFA fiasco, a 7-year-old managed to charge $6,000 in microtransactions to his parent’s iTunes account in just over a week. This lack of responsibility from publishers has been highlighted and criticised to no avail. It is down now to governmental regulations to limit the risk of children being exposed to gambling, and to discourage this growing trend of habitual gambling. These games are for children and should be safe for children. We do not allow smoking in children’s media anymore, this should be no different.