UK Takes Action With Loot Box Call

September 25, 2020

- Grant Whittington

Very close to precisely a year has passed since a U.K. House of Commons Committee first advised that video games offering for sale so-called loot boxes should be re-categorised as full-blown gambling games, and as such, be appropriately age restricted. This recommendation, made in September last year, followed in in-depth report compiled by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) different forms of immersive and/or addictive technologies as offered by gaming and other technology-driven companies.

Said chair of the DCMS committee Damian Collins at the time, loot boxes come at a terrifically high host, and especially so for persons experiencing problem gambling behaviour – while also posting potential harm to children. The department had concluded as a result of its findings that loot boxes should not remain exempt from the country’s Gambling Act, said Collins at the time of his initial statement.

And now, one year later, the DCMS has launched an official “call for evidence” on the matter of the impact of loot boxes in video games often played by under-age persons and children.

Lack Of Info A Problem

Even though several academics at the time of the compiling of the initial report told the DCMS committee that there did not yet exist sufficient evidence relating to the psychological effects of not actual gambling, but instead, gambling-style features in video games on the impressionable minds of young people and children, the committee decided to forge ahead with the call for evidence regardless.

Anti-gambling MPs also at the time referred to what had happened in Belgium leading up to the reclassification of loot boxes as gambling elements. Video games companies offering their products to Belgium users eventually decided to instead of applying for the relevant gambling licence, withdraw the sale of loot boxes from the market instead. Some product owners even withdrew entire brands from Belgium following the reclassification.

Half Good, Half Bad

What followed was a DCMS recommendation that all online games should be legally regulated by the same restrictions enforced on the sale of physical video games – which the committee said it believed would effectively close a common loophole often resorted to by games publishers.

But what should also be mentioned is that the initial report did come as a relief to the video games industry in its wider format. Instead of a call for evidence, the industry had clearly expected an outright slam-dunk situation followed by an inundation of criticism. The other side of the coin, however, is that of several fingers now being pointed in the direction of the video games industry for its alleged unwillingness to engage with government in the providing of clear-cut answers and information. 

What Happens Next?

As for what can be expected to happen next now that the call for evidence has been officially been launched, a mass gathering of information and opinion appears to be the next step.  The DCMS earlier this week posted to Twitter a link providing information on how interested parties and video games industry role-players are to go about answering to government’s loot box call for evidence.

Conducted as a whole online, the evidence-gathering process will assume the form of a digital survey experience, which survey will glean information from both the video games industry itself, as well as from members of the public.  

Two specific groups will be targeted exercise: one group consisting of players of video games aged 16 and up, and also to include adult persons taking care of young people and children, and a second group made up of businesses and organisations interested in the impact of loot boxes on younger persons and children.

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