The UK Gambling Commission cannot intervene with the on-going video game loot crate debate just yet.
Speaking to Eurogamer, Tim Miller, executive director of the organisation was asked whether the body had had contact with game developers. His answer: yes, but not enough.
“We've had some discussions with developers,” he said.
“Often, that's on the back of us raising a concern about a particular situation. For the FutGalaxy case, clearly we had discussions with developers there and they actually worked well with us on that. We've had discussions with other developers, wanting to understand a bit about our approach but the truth is we haven't had a lot of contact.”
He says that the body’s role is to enforce legislation enacted by the UK government – and right now, loot boxes do not fit the current definition of gambling. This is, in part, due to the inability to ‘cash out’.
“It's parliament rather than us that sets the legal definition of what is or is not gambling,” he points out. “That was set in the Gambling Act by parliament.”
The issue of loot boxes as a form of gambling in video games has been raised by members of the UK parliament in October this year. Tracey Crouch MP responded to a written question by Daniel Zeichner MP; saying that: “The Gambling Commission has a range of regulatory powers to take action where illegal gambling is taking place.”
The key phrasing there must surely be “illegal gambling”. Both Tracey Crouch MP, and now Tim Miller, gave the same example of the UK Gambling Commission taking action against illegal gambling surrounding video games.
“If a product crosses over that line, starts posing a threat to children and young people, then we are clear we will take action against that,” said Miller.
“A really good example was the legal action we took earlier this year in relation to the FutGalaxy website, where we prosecuted two YouTube users who were providing a facility for gambling that was parasitic off the FIFA football game.
“In relation to loot boxes specifically, the key thing here is the loot boxes we've seen, none of them contain a facility to be able to cash-out within the game itself, and that's really the key thing which is preventing them from crossing that line into becoming gambling.”
Eurogamer pressed the issue further, asking why the prevalence of third-party sites that enable a player to cash-out of various games should not lead to the regulation of developers directly. Even if the devs’ games don’t technically include the ability to cash-out as an in-game feature.
“The power parliament has given us is to regulate gambling,” says Miller. “So if it doesn't cross the line to become gambling it's not something we can use our powers for, but that doesn't mean there's not a need to take action. If there's a risk presented to children or young people then clearly it has to be dealt with.”
He continues: “What is really important is we see these sort of issues, where there's risks to children, not purely as a gambling issue, not even purely as a computer game issue, but as an issue of child protection.”