Players are spending up to £1,000 a year on video game 'loot boxes' as MPs have called for them to be banned for children.
A parliamentary report published today is urging the Government to close a loop hole in gambling legislation that allows the features, which dispense randomised virtual rewards, to be sold to under-18s.
MPs also called for any games that contained loot boxes to be clearly labeled “gambling” and rated age 18. The call follows an investigation into ‘immersive and addictive’ technologies, such as video games and social media, by the culture select committee.
The report attacked some of the tech companies that gave evidence for their “lack of honesty and transparency” over their business practices.
Loot boxes feature in popular games such as FIFA Ultimate Team, where gamers buy packs of football players in the hope of getting the biggest stars for their online team. During the hearings, Electronic Arts, which makes FIFA, denied the feature constituted gambling, describing it instead as a “surprise mechanic”.
However, the committee heard from a gamer who said they spent “almost £800 to £1000 a year annually on FIFA” loot boxes trying to improve their team.
Loot boxes currently do not come under the 2005 Gambling Act as the prizes the give out are not considered to have money’s worth outside the video games.
Damian Collins, the culture committee chair, said: “Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up.”
The committee said although there was not a large body of evidence linking loot boxes with gambling, this was partly because researchers could not get access to the data they needed from secretive video games companies. As such, they called for the Government to force such companies to release data on loot box and games use to build up the evidence base.
Another area explored by the committee was the growing industry in competitive video game playing, called esports.
It highlighted the case of 15-year-old Jaden Ashman who came second on the Fortnite World Cup earlier this year, claiming almost £1 million in prize money. Following the tournament, the teenager revealed he practices the game for eight to ten hours a day, which had caused him to fall asleep at school.
MPs warned that the Government needed to act to protect esports players and children aspiring to become professionals by introducing a legal duty of care, similar to in other sports.
The model would emulate safeguards in areas such as in the Premier League, where clubs have rules around the length of training sessions and minimum educational requirements for young academy stars.