In an attempt to investigate increasing concerns that they may facilitate problem gambling or compulsive activities, the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a call for evidence on the effect of loot boxes in video games.
In addition to “rigorous, high-quality data and research from video game companies, academia, civil society,” the call for evidence would collect opinions from both players and their parents or guardians.
Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture, stated: “Our valued video game industry is making good progress developing safer environments for our children to play in, such as parental controls that can be set to schedule and limit playtime.
“But 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.”
According to the government, the results would provide a better view of the scale of the UK loot box and in-game buying industry, how it works, and the effect of existing safeguards such as parental controls and legislation on customers.
In recent years, loot boxes have been a subject of debate, with questions raised about whether they allow kids and younger viewers to gamble.
Loot boxes are game-embedded objects containing randomised rewards that at the point of purchase are unknown. This may be cosmetic, such as ‘skins’ that alter an in-game character’s appearance, or provide an advantage in gameplay for users.
According to the DCMS, players do not know which item they will get until after they have opened the loot box and this opportunity aspect has raised concerns that they might facilitate gambling-like behaviour, particularly among young people.
Due to the lack of monetary value associated with the ‘won’ items, as the issue of loot boxes blurs dynamics between competitive gaming and gambling, this video game element is currently not protected by the existing UK gambling legislation.
Later this year, as the government undertakes its review of the Gambling Act 2005, Loot Boxes are expected to come under further scrutiny.
DCMS called for more limits in September 2019 to be imposed on the selling of loot boxes to those under 18 years of age. In the 2019 Snap Election campaign, all major UK political parties emphasised that in order to create safer online worlds, the nation’s digital laws had to be reformed.
The DCMS argued that online games should enjoy the same degree of age restriction as physical sales of gambling goods to better protect their consumers, and that the gaming industry should contribute financially to independent studies into the long-term effects of gaming, carrying out a study on ‘addictive and interactive technologies’
In the meantime, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has previously advised the Conservative Government to enact legislation classifying loot boxes and skin betting as legally accepted gambling types.
Gambling addiction and damage reduction charities GamCare and GambleAware called on the government to encourage more studies on gambling addiction for younger audiences to encourage safer environments.