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U.K. lawmaker gets involved in loot-box controversy

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Questions whether loot crates violate gambling law

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Games

A member of the United Kingdom’s parliament has opened an inquiry into the loot-box model of microtransactions in console games, on behalf of a constituent who asked him about the legality of the practice.

Daniel Zeichner, a Labour MP from Cambridge, posed two questions to Karen Bradley, the U.K.’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. Zeichner asked what steps she will take “to protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.”

His second question was specific to the jurisdiction of the Isle of Man, which has a stronger legal code specifically addressing “illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes” and whether such protections could be extended to the nation on the whole.

Zeichner’s formal questioning comes on behalf of a constituent, who wrote in Reddit’s r/Games forum that he met with Zeichner about the subject. “The goal here is to see the UK’s existing gambling regulations applied to loot boxes,” user Artfunkel said. “The Isle of Man is a British territory which explicitly defines in-game items as money's worth in its gambling law. It's currently the only place in the world that does so.”

The recent launches of Forza Motorsport 7 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War have made loot boxes a top-of-mind controversy in video gaming. Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s beta recently closed and its use of loot crates outraged fans enough that Electronic Arts responded. “The complete system was not in the Beta and will continue to be tuned over time,” it said.

Shadow of War has gone so far as to include a “bonus ending” to the story that, while it can be reached without spending money, is time consuming to acquire otherwise. NBA 2K18 has been excoriated by its longtime fanbase for the system of virtual currency and microtransactions in the game’s MyCareer mode.

The trend of microtransaction content has become enough of a red-button issue that the game review aggregation site OpenCritic is now flagging titles that have that kind of paid content.