25th Aug2019

Why Microtransactions Should be Regulated like Gambling

by James Smith


Microtransactions are small financial transactions that occur on digital platforms such as phone apps and gaming consoles, typically involving the sale of in-game content. One of the most common features are mystery boxes or ‘loot boxes’ which encourage players to spend money to increase their chances of finding a rare item in a game. But the addictive qualities of these features are not unlike those found in online slot games or casinos and have resulted in consumers campaigning for game producers to overhaul their policies on the inclusions of microtransactions, even worse, the gambling industry have regulators & open odds, for example Timeform is the provider for lots of betting odds, but with microtransactions, the odds are always set by the games developer & rarely shown to the consumer.

Microtransactions Could Be a Catalyst for Gambling Addictions

Many believe that microtransactions should be treated in the same manner as gambling in order to ensure that the games don’t circumvent restrictions that prevent harmful risk coming to vulnerable people and younger players. Since video games are often marketed towards younger audiences, there’s a risk of microtransactions serving as a catalyst for the development of gambling addictions or other addictive tendencies. What’s more, games which include microtransactions have gone beyond encouraging players to spend money on cosmetic yet guaranteed items to expecting players to shell out cash for the chance of winning an item, meaning that often the individual spends money for nothing – in the same way as they do with gambling.

Loot Boxes Work in the Same Way as Scratch Cards

Loot boxes are similar to scratch cards in that they are opened out of curiosity and the player may get a prize, which encourages them to try again to see if they can win something bigger or better. This can easily turn into a habit and results in far more being spent than they initially anticipated. The comparisons between loot boxes and gambling have led to countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands to include them in their gambling legislation.

Games such as FIFA Ultimate Team make it possible for players to spend thousands and still never reveal the rarest players. In fact, the chances of unearthing the rarest rewards from a loot box can vary from 10% to as low as 1%. This can lead to a dangerous trap for people to become trapped in a cycle of addictive behaviour. Despite this, EA have insisted that FIFA Ultimate Team and games like it aren’t gambling, even though they are games of chance.

Countries in Europe have Changed their Legislation

After an investigation into consumers’ concerns over the fears that loot boxes could be encouraging children to gamble, Belgium outlawed these features, stating that they were not an innocent aspect of games which present themselves as a game of skill. The legal developments elsewhere in Europe have led to growing calls for MPs in the UK to take the same action. Research suggests that 60% of the public believe loot boxes should be treated in the same way as gambling and there have been petitions to amend the laws around gambling to include video games which are targeted towards children.

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