Consumer groups representing 18 countries from August 2019 signed a letter calling for the unbundling of loot boxes from video games as “a form of abuse.”
The contents of the virtual boxes are revealed only through either game play or by making a payment.
Some apps contain useful tools or desirable extras which improve the experience, while others are worthless.
According to the report authors, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), gamers are being manipulated into spending large sums of money on the chests.
EA, a video game publisher, has previously compared loot boxes to children’s toys Hatchimals or Kinder Surprise.
Critics argue that the boxes are a form of gambling because players cannot see what they have bought until after they have paid to open them.
Finn Myrstad, director of digital policy at the NCC, said: “Loot boxes are often sold to consumers as if they were a normal form of in-game purchases and their presentation involves exploiting addictive mechanisms and targeting vulnerable consumer groups.”
The report is supported by 20 consumer groups in 18 countries, who are calling for governments to take action through regulation.
The European Consumer Organisation is an umbrella organization that represents consumers in Europe – including those in the United Kingdom.
The report says that the systems used to convince people to part with their money in games are “predatory,” “manipulative,” and “exceedingly aggressive.”
It adds that the fact that some games containing loot boxes are targeted at children makes these problems worse.
Banned in Belgium
There is a controversy over whether loot boxes constitute gambling.
In 2018, Belgium’s Gaming Commission ruled that loot boxes in popular video games violated gambling laws. This led to EA Sports removing the virtual currency from its FIFA series in that region. As a result, players can only earn loot boxes by playing the Ultimate Team mode.
In 2019, Netherlands came to the same conclusion as Belgium and hit Fifa’s publisher EA with a €10m (£8.5m) fine.
A court overturned the decision in March 2022, when it found that EA had not broken the law, and rescinded the fine.
Loot boxes, which contain digital versions of actual football players who can then play for FIFA gamers’ teams, add an element of chance to the Ultimate Team mode. However, they only form part of a broader game of skill.
In 2019, a vice president of the game publisher Electronic Arts defended the company’s use of loot boxes, telling members of Parliament that they were just like Kinder Eggs.
Kerry Hopkins, Director of Consumer Insights at Electronic Arts, said: “We have implemented these kinds of mechanics in our games—FIFA Ultimate Team and packs—in a way that we think is ethical and enjoyable to people.”
In 2018, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, decided to let players in its hit video game see what was inside its loot boxes before deciding whether to buy them.
In the UK, there are plans to introduce a review into whether gambling regulation is fit for the digital age. In 2020, loot boxes are set to be firmly regulated as “games of chance” by the House of Lords Gambling Committee.