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UK gov wants loot box protection for children, considers legislation

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A press release from the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) calls for videogame companies to increase protections to stop children being able to buy loot boxes in their games. The statement also says that the government “will not hesitate to consider legislation if companies do not bring in sufficient measures to keep players safe.”

In July 2020, the UK’s House of Lords said that loot boxes should be classified as gambling, and a report from the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton in April 2021 called loot boxes “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.” A call for evidence launched by the DCMS in 2020 found that “players who have purchased loot boxes may be more likely to experience gambling, mental health, financial, and problem gaming-related harms.”

In addition, the report stated that these risks may be greater for children and young people, leading to the UK government’s latest call to make the purchase of loot boxes “unavailable to children and young people unless they are approved by a parent or guardian.” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries says that the government wants to “stop children going on spending sprees online without parental consent.”

Dorries continues, saying that “Games companies and platforms need to do more to ensure that controls and age-restrictions are applied” to protect younger players from being enticed by loot boxes and other in-game purchases. “Children should be free to enjoy gaming safely, whilst giving parents and guardians the peace of mind they need.”

The DCMS notes steps already taken by platforms including Xbox to include options that require parental permission for players under the age of 18 to spend money on in-game items. The government says that they want to “build on this with strong protections for children across the entire game industry and will not hesitate to consider legislation” if it feels that the measures implemented by companies are insufficient to keep young players safe.

The DCMS also says it is convening a new group to “bring together games companies, platforms, and regulatory bodies to develop industry-led measures to protect players and reduce the risk of harm.” It lists “transparent, accessible information” about the nature of in-game loot boxes and parental spending controls as measures it is hoping to see implemented.

One of the most commonly addressed games is EA’s FIFA series (now set to become EA Sports FC), which has caused much consternation with its Fifa Ultimate Team card packs. Blizzard is ditching loot boxes for Overwatch 2 in favour of a seasonal monetisation model, while Diablo Immortal’s elder rifts have been frequently compared to loot boxes – but it’s unclear at the moment precisely how any potential regulation would affect such games.

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Furthermore, the UK government says it is launching a Video Games Research Framework aimed at improving “understanding of the positive and negative impacts of video games.” In May, consumer groups in 18 European countries backed a report authored by the Norwegian Consumer Council that labelled loot boxes as “exploitative” and “predatory,” calling for better regulation within the industry.

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