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A few weeks back, I reported on the results of a nine-month parliamentary inquiry here in the UK, conducted by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that was put together in order to ascertain just how much of a problem loot boxes and microtransactions are in video games, and whether or not the government should be doing more to regulate the practice - especially in games aimed at children.
The result of the inquiry, which included meetings with publishers like EA and Blizzard, was a lengthy 84-page report based on evidence from various developers, academics, and trade bodies, as well as as recommendation from the committee to the UK government that loot boxes be regulated under the gambling act, and outright banned in games for kids, if not at least better age-gated.
The committee's findings naturally included a number of examples that show how damaging microtransactions in games can be, and the popular online fantasy adventure RuneScape found itself specifically called out as part of the report. In one small segment of the report, we hear of "a member of the public whose adult son built up considerable debts, reported to be in excess of £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in British company Jagex's online game RuneScape." The report goes on to claim that this led to "significant financial harm for both the player and his parents."
The committee also found that Jagex generates nearly one-third of its revenue from microtransactions alone. "The company's director of player experience Kelvin Plomer told us that can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month," read a line from the report. Some players have consistently called Jagex out in recent years over the way microtransactions are handled in RuneScape, and the revelations within the committee's report have led to a reignited anger among the community, reports Kotaku.
"At this point, it's no longer pay-to-play. It's pay-to-pay," said one commenter on the game's subreddit. The community has been arguing against RuneScape's "predatory" promotions since 2012, when the "Squeal of Fortune" update offered players the chance to spin a wheel in return for random armour, money, or experience points. Another user told Kotaku that the update was met with "severe backlash" at the time, and had people "worried for the future."
Clearly, thing haven't improved much in the intervening years, with Jagex offering paid gameplay boosts that the majority of players seem to completely disagree with. One longtime RuneScape player told Kotaku, "the nature of loot boxes I do find very predatory, the fact that they hide the true value of items and experience to get more money from players is particularly nefarious. I think that players would be a little less critical if they just sold experience outright."
It remains to be seen how companies like Jagex will respond to the report's findings and the recommendations of the committee, but it's becoming increasingly clear that, with all the unrest and irritation from gamers surrounding loot boxes, something in the industry has to give sooner rather than later.
Featured Image Credit: Jagex
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