Loot boxes undergo UK government scrutiny

By Tom West,

The UK government has demanded that the games industry takes action to protect children from gambling harm via loot boxes now, or risk legislation in the future, after a DCMS report highlighted the gambling risks of loot boxes.

As it stands, the UK government is allowing the games industry to operate independently to monitor and safely offer loot boxes to players, but if further measures to protect children from loot boxes aren't undertaken now, legislation could come in the future.

UK government calls for loot box safety measures to protect children

uk government demands games industry action to protect children from loot boxes

As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, following the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport's (DCMS) call for evidence in 2020, the UK government has called on the games industry to better protect children from "gambling, mental health, financial, and problem gaming-related harms." The government hasn't explicitly concluded that loot boxes are the same as gambling, so won't be amending the Gambling Act as a result, but it has found that players who purchase loot boxes stand a higher chance of experiencing gambling-related issues. “Changing the Gambling Act with regards to loot boxes would have significant implementation challenges and risks of unintended consequences.”

According to the UK government, loot boxes shouldn't be available to children and young people without parental approval, and Microsoft's settings for parents to block under-18s from spending money within Xbox games were mentioned when discussing the need for stronger protection measures across the games industry as a whole. While the industry is currently being left to regulate itself the call-to-action wasn't completely warning-free, with the DCMS report saying that the UK government "will not hesitate to consider legislation if companies do not bring in sufficient measures to keep players safe."

“We want to stop children going on spending sprees online without parental consent, spurred on by in-game purchases like loot boxes," culture secretary Nadine Dorries said. “Games companies and platforms need to do more to ensure that controls and age restrictions are applied so that players are protected from the risk of gambling harms. Children should be free to enjoy gaming safely, whilst giving parents and guardians the peace of mind they need.”

The government notes that there is a need for better evidence to understand both the positive and negative effects of video games. DCMS' own findings showed that it's still early days for research. Its own consumer research was "self-selecting," so it wasn't representative of the player base as a whole. Its research did turn up some interesting statistics, though, such as the fact that 34% of players weren't aware of PEGI in-game purchases and "paid random items' labels. 63% of players aged 16 and above and 70% of adults responsible for a child or young person, had negative feelings about loot boxes, which comes as no surprise when 57% of players said that they had gone over their personal restrictions on loot boxes. Due to the need for better industry research, the UK government has launched the Video Games Research Framework to help yield better results.

According to the report, the DCMS suggests that loot boxes should let players know that the boxes themselves are not essential and don't guarantee success, as well as a "pause spending" message that notifies players when they've exceeded a set number of purchases. Generous refund policies should be available alongside trained staff to help players suffering from loot box-related issues — a new working group will be formed comprising of games companies and regulatory bodies to create "industry-led measures," such as parental controls and player transparency regarding loot boxes.

"As a responsible industry, we have committed to exploring additional ways to support players and parents to build on our existing work developing and raising awareness of parental controls," UKIE CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE said. "We look forward to engaging closely with the Government and other organisations in the working group and on the Video Games Research Framework."

The full report isn't currently available, but we'll update the story when it is.
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with systems like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation until he eventually fell in love with the Xbox 360. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not achievement hunting, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online.