Spain seeks public opinion on loot boxes as EU considers crackdown

Posted: May 31, 2022, 8:49 a.m.

Last update: May 31, 2022, 8:49 a.m.

For several years, loot boxes in video games have been a controversial topic in jurisdictions around the world. As Europe prepares to determine whether this is a form of gambling, Spain wants to know what the public thinks.

Loot box
A loot box from the Overwatch video game. Europe may soon decide whether video game add-ons are a form of gambling. (Picture: CBR)

The Spanish Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MCA) has published on its website a public consultation ahead of the development of draft regulations for the regulation of loot boxes. The decision comes as consumer groups from 18 countries across Europe are calling for a definitive crackdown on video game items, labeling them a form of gambling.

In 2018, the European Regulators Forum, with the participation of the Spanish Directorate General for Gambling Regulation (DGOJ, for its Spanish acronym), expressed concern about the similarity between loot boxes in video games and the gambling mechanics. Likewise, Minister Alberto Garzón, on several occasions, has publicly expressed his intention to regulate in this regard.

MCA needs public support

The MCA explains that the Spanish draft law regulating random reward mechanisms (loot boxes) aims to establish a specific regulatory framework. This will take into account their connection with gambling and, as well as the specificity of the sector of economic activity in which these mechanisms operate.

Loot boxes work in a similar way to a slot machine. In the case of a video game, players use in-game currency to “spin” the slot machine. This will give rewards at a fixed but random rate. A player must be extremely lucky to win one of the most coveted prizes available.

However, this description, which anti-loot box experts use because of the “slot machine” connotation, is not entirely accurate. Unlike slot machines, all loot boxes offer prizes. These can be avatars, weapons, strength or any other type of enhancement.

Additionally, players have the ability to collect loot boxes without making a purchase. Complete missions, earn points, etc. will create the ability to select a loot box.

From Saturday May 28 until the end of the day on June 13, the MCA will receive comments from the public. In this sense, citizens, organizations and associations can send their opinions.

Report puts loot boxes in the dark

A new report from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) is once again fueling the loot box debate. He said players are “manipulated” into spending large sums of money on loot boxes, which could be considered gambling, according to a BBC report.

Finn Lutzow-Holm Myrstad, director of digital policy for the NCC, said in the report that it was clear that the design and mechanism driving in-game purchases for loot box games is “predatory and manipulative. “. As such, they target consumer vulnerabilities at all times.

He added that loot box sales benefit consumers through the use of “predatory mechanisms” and can lead to addiction. Myrstad believes that governments should pass laws to regulate or limit loot boxes in video games.

There is still no clear answer on the status of the loot boxes. A court in the Netherlands recently determined that they did not represent a form of gambling. This was almost three years after the country banned their use.

A similar result came up in federal court in San Francisco in January. Again, the judge determined that no law expressly prohibits the use of loot boxes.

Despite the Dutch court ruling, game developers aren’t willing to take the risk. Activision Blizzard is releasing its latest game, Diablo Immortal, which contains loot boxes.

When released, it will not be available in the Netherlands or Belgium, which has completely banned them. It will, however, be available in the UK, which has also called for a loot box ban.