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Government seeks public opinion on loot boxes following Parent Zone report

The UK government has launched a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes in video games.

The eight-week consultation will ask gamers and their parents/guardians for their experiences, as well as seeking data and research from video game companies, academics and other relevant organisations.

Loot boxes are controversial in-game microtransactions which see players encouraged to purchase an assortment of ‘mystery’ items which are only revealed once the transaction has been made.

Because of the chance element involved, concerns have been raised about them encouraging gambling-like behaviours – leading countries such as Belgium, Netherlands and China to either restrict their availability or ban them outright.

The call for evidence follows the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee’s report on Immersive and Addicted Technologies, which urged policymakers and game developers to stop selling loot boxes that contain an element of chance to children.

Parent Zone has long been at the forefront of examining loot boxes’ impact on children and young people and whether they encourage gambling-like behaviours.

Last year, our report The Rip-Off Games found that 49 per cent of young people who play video games thought they were only fun when they spent money.

Parent Zone’s founder and CEO Vicki Shotbolt said: “Parent Zone has been raising concerns about loot boxes for several years. The games industry has made gambling-like behaviour a common part of games. It is time to classify loot boxes for what they are – gambling.”

The new call for evidence will help examine these concerns and determine whether loot boxes should be considered a form of gambling. A review of the 2005 Gambling Act will also be considered. Under current UK legislation, prizes have to have a monetary value to be classified as gambling.

Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage said: “We’ve listened to parents’ concerns about loot boxes and it’s right that we fully examine and understand any evidence of the harm or links to problem gambling they can cause, so we can decide if action is needed.”

Video games are played by more than half of the UK population, and play a key role in the UK’s creative industries. In 2018, the annual spend on loot boxes in games reached $30bn (£23.5bn) worldwide, with experts predicting that the number will rise to $50bn (£39bn) within the next five years.

Parent Zone’s own research found that 76 per cent of children and young people think games try to get them to spend money all the time.

We recommend that:

  • Policymakers should look at flagging games in which spending is required to make progress. They should consider age verification and parental consent for in-game spending.
  • Further research is needed into the links between gaming and gambling, especially when it comes to loot boxes, which come under gambling legislation in some countries but not in the UK.

Gaming is important to the UK economy and an important aspect of the creative industries - and Parent Zone believes that games designers, publishers and platforms should be rewarded for their efforts. But not at the expense of exploiting children and the most vulnerable.

The call for evidence is now live and can be found here. It will be open until November 22 2020.

Image: Stanisic Vladimir/


The Rip-Off Games: How the new business model of online gaming exploits children

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