Loot boxes: Ukie plans to restrict gambling in video games, what it means for players - what are loot boxes?

Ukie hopes its new proposals will allow the industry to self-regulate the use of loot boxes within its games

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The UK games industry has announced plans to try and restrict children's access to loot boxes and other gambling-style features in certain video games.

Ukie, the organisation that represents gaming companies, has revealed 11 new principles on the practice, which it says will "underline the industry's commitment to safe and responsible play" and will "improve protections for all players."

But what exactly does it mean for players? How might games change in the future under the new proposals, and how will loot boxes be approached to make them less of a thorny issue in the modern gaming landscape? Here is everything you need to know.

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes are virtual items in video games that players can purchase with real-world money, or earn in-game. They contain random rewards, such as virtual items, cosmetic enhancements, character outfits, weapons, or other in-game advantages, but the contents of the box are not revealed until it is opened.

The chance of receiving specific desirable items is often based on a random chance or probability, and loot boxes share similarities with traditional gambling practices, such as slot machines or lottery tickets. Players are enticed by the thrill of receiving valuable rewards, but there's a risk they might end up spending large amounts of money chasing the desired items, much like gambling.

(Image: Activision)(Image: Activision)
(Image: Activision)

Many video games that incorporate loot boxes are accessible to children and teenagers, younger audiences that might not fully understand the concept of chance and randomness, making them vulnerable to developing problematic spending habits. The unpredictable nature of loot boxes can create a psychological hook, leading players to keep trying to get rare items.

In some games, loot boxes may contain items that provide advantages in gameplay, creating an imbalance between players who spend money on loot boxes and those who don't. This can be frustrating for players who can't or choose not to spend money on these items.

In multiplayer games, loot boxes can also become a status symbol or a way for players to fit in with their peers, and the fear of missing out on valuable items might lead children to feel pressured to spend money on loot boxes.

Regulatory bodies in various countries have started to investigate loot boxes and their potential classification as gambling or subject to gambling regulations, and some countries and jurisdictions have taken steps to regulate or ban loot boxes in video games.

What are the new measures?

Ukie has released a set of principles that it hopes will enable the industry to self-regulate the use of loot boxes within its games.

The first is a promise to provide technological measures that will effectively prevent anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing a loot box without their parent or guardian's permission. Parental controls are already widely available on gaming platforms, but they are not as frequently used as they could be.

The second principle promises to use a public information campaign to increase awareness of those controls, and an expert panel will be assembled to share best practices on age assurance issues.

Ukie says game developers will have to disclose the presence of loot boxes before somebody decides to buy a game, whether that's on the box art of a physical title, or displayed clearly on digital storefronts. Games will also need to provide a clear probability before a loot box is purchased.

The proposals also include plans for simpler refund processes, and guidelines for how loot boxes should be presented.

In a statement, John Whittingdale, minister for the creative industries, said: "We've been clear that the video games industry needs to do more to protect children and adults from the harms associated with loot boxes.

"These new principles are a big step forward to make sure players can enjoy video games responsibly and safely. I look forward to seeing games companies put the plans into action and will be watching their progress closely."

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