The game mechanic lets users spend real-life money for random in-game items, ranging from characters to cosmetics. This has led to comparisons to gambling, and has seen loot boxes face strict regulation and bans worldwide. As a result of these restrictions, last year’s smash hit title Diablo Immortal was banned in The Netherlands and Belgium prior to release. Despite this, the game quickly emerged as one of 2022's biggest mobile releases, passing $100 million in revenue just a month after its release.
Ukie’s move follows three years of investigation by the British government, leading to an edict last year that game makers should create new rules regarding the mechanic, with at-the-time culture secretary Nadine Dorries stating that “direct government intervention may risk unintended consequences.”
Unboxing the guidelines
Ukie’s newly-published principles will, it hopes, allow the industry to regulate the use of loot boxes, and takes the form of eleven guidelines which “underline the industry’s commitment to safe and responsible play.” These guidelines include a commitment to restrict gamers below 18 from purchasing loot boxes without the consent of their parent or guardian, making use of available technological controls.
Other guidelines included in the plans include a public information campaign to make consumers aware of the controls in place, the implementation of more lenient refund policies, new rules on how loot boxes should be presented, and an expert panel to share best practices on age assurance issues. Additionally, games will be required to show probabilities prior to purchase, and Ukie will attempt to tackle the black market sale of loot box purchases and research the impact of the systems, with progress to be reviewed in 12 months.
The BBC highlights the possibility of people becoming addicted to loot boxes, similarly to other forms of gambling, which can lead to problematic purchases even as adults, with one consumer, Dave Sproson, taking out 28 loans to fund his habit prior to overcoming his addiction in 2014.
In my opinion you need to classify loot boxes as gambling. If you look at a loot box and look at a slot machine, there's no real difference," said Sproson.
"We've been clear the video games industry needs to do more to protect children and adults from the harms associated with loot boxes,” said minister for the creative industries John Whittingdale. "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."
Despite the moves to regulate the use of loot boxes worldwide, an academic paper published earlier this year found that many game makers fail to comply with rules regarding loot box labelling. We listed Diablo Immortal's co-developers Activision Blizzard and NetEase as two of the top 50 mobile game makers of 2022, and will be unveiling our list for 2023 in the coming months.