EGR Intel - Loot Box/ Gambling Interview with Harry Lang
1. In your opinion - are Loot Boxes a form of gambling, plain and simple, or are there nuances to them?
There’s no equivocation – Loot Boxes in their current guise are a gambling device. I didn’t think I’d ever be ‘that guy’, but the dictionary definition leaves no room for argument:-
“The activity or practice of playing at a game of chance for money or other stakes”
2. What is the connection, if any, between Loot Boxes and later engaging with problematic gambling behaviours?
If you accept my point above, that Loot Boxes are a form of gambling, then the behavioural evolution of a player trying to win a certain type of skin to someone chasing down that skin with their last available funds is no different to somebody becoming hooked on scratch cards, slots or the nags. I’m certainly no psychologist, but the user journey is so similar its familial.
3. Should there more explicit warnings for both players and parents of young children highlighting that a title includes Loot Boxes?
God yes – of course! It’s quite scary that kids have been allowed into this environment for so long. Parents, thinking that they’re simply funding a harmless gaming hobby are inadvertently introducing their children to a hobby that can potentially cost them hundreds or even thousands, as has been the case with FIFA cards. Equally scary is the fact that when they find a rare and desirable skin, they’ll get the same rush as someone scoring an Acca at the races. This kind of addictive behaviour, as we all know, is sometimes very hard for people to unlearn.
4. Should there be a limit on the marketing and advertising of Loot Boxes?
Yes – absolutely. I don’t necessarily think there’s the need for draconian measures like banning Loot Boxes altogether as they’re an integral part of many games that are enjoyed by Billions of gamers, but I do feel you need to take the risk/ reward element away for children under 18 – perhaps just selling skins in a traditional market place on which parents control the funds might be one solution? Marketing of Loot Crates in their current guise should certainly fall under the same code of conduct as other gambling verticals.
5. Why do you feel that some game developers are taking proactive, rather than reactive, action in removing Loot Boxes on their accord?
These guys are zeitgeist makers – they’ve created a multi-Billion Dollar industry from scratch in a couple of decades so they’re not thick. They’ve seen which way the wind’s blowing; they want to defend their bedrock demographics (kids and young people) so they’ve jumped before they were pushed. I’d like to pretend it was an ethical call, but I suspect it was a commercial one.
6. Ultimately, do you think the UK should follow Belgium’s lead in outlawing Loot Boxes? Or is there a happy medium?
As I said, I don’t think that’s necessary – I do think a grown up pragmatic regulatory framework that protects children from learning addictive behaviour and controls the marketing of Loot Boxes to consenting adults would be adequate. Add to that the need for infrastructure from game developers to protect players at risk of problem gambling, like any UK gambling operator has to implement and I believe you have a sustainable and pragmatic solution. Getting game developers and publishers onside in exchange for their long-term future won’t be an issue, I suspect – controlling aftermarket, unregulated offshore skin betting sites is a harder problem to fix, and potentially the more dangerous for kids.