Alex Birlo on January 23, 2021

India Starts Fight Against Loot-Boxes

Last week I stumbled upon an unexpectedly nice surprise in the form of a short article by The Times of India!

A PIL in the Gujarat High Court in India started a new move to legally classify loot-boxes in video games as a form of gambling – which let’s be real, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind, by this point, that it is indeed the case!

In short, Public Interest Litigation is a big deal in India. Since back in the day, the judiciary and Supreme Court of India used to entertain litigation only from parties directly affected.

But with this, the court began permitting cases on the ground of public interests. Which means even those who are not directly involved in the case can bring general matters of public interest to the court.

The entire idea of this PIL is, yet again, to classify and then ban or regulate the inclusion of loot-boxes in video games on the grounds that “it is nothing but gambling”, which is sort of prohibited in most Indian states.

But first, let us clarify one thing here. In India, there is a general “Gambling Act” which solidifies the general laws governing gambling in the country.

But then, we have state legislatures that are quite free to enforce their own “gambling laws” – under the general “Gambling Act” of course – but the general consensus is that any form of gambling should be frowned upon.

Though most of these laws were actually created before online gambling, so they are generally referring to physical forms of gambling, and it leaves this entire thing an open topic. But which I am glad is being challenged and regulated.

Coming back from this quick legal lesson, the PIL was filed through an advocate Dhruvin Dossani and asserts that “online gaming portals should be prohibited from offering loot-box sales”.

To be honest, I don’t really like the formulation of an “online gaming portal” because then it only indirectly touches specific games like what EA makes, and refers more to things like Online Casinos.

But on the other hand it is something that is more widely understood and through appealing to everyone’s understanding of classic gambling, you can prove loot-boxes in games as a form of gambling as well.

Because the given description of a loot-box was stated correctly and precisely: a kind of purchase which the players of a particular game buy for real money, and they are given a reward which is uncertain and is virtual in nature.

The desired outcome of this PIL is that the government will form a committee to mark the total number of games that offer such a mechanic for their players and consider the fact of “game creators offering loot-boxes to their players” as a form of gambling.

By now we heard of a lot of cases such as this one, not going through and loot-boxes generally staying “a thing”, so much as to the point when people stopped talking about it.

But I felt it important to try and revive this topic a bit – with a promising story such is this one – to remind people that despite all the noise that was made about loot-boxes in video games since 2017, thy are still not really “legally regulated” as gambling, except for a few countries.

We still mainly rely on the publishers’ fear of another outburst – like the one with Star Wars Battlefront 2 – to exercise common sense and not include loot-boxes in their games.

But they still exist and are legally almost “unobstructed”.