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UK government puts out call for evidence on loot boxes, following concerns they teach children to gamble

Loot boxes could be classified as gambling in the future

June 11, 2020 The CEO of UKIE has provided a statement on the government’s response to the DCMS’ 2019 report.

The UK government is putting out a call for evidence on loot boxes this week, following concerns that they could potentially be training children to gamble. Loot boxes, a mechanic that allows players to spend real money on in-game items, for example skins and other cosmetics, without seeing what they’re buying in advance, aren’t currently classed as gambling in the UK, but could be in the future.

The Guardian (via Eurogamer) reports the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport will launch a call for evidence on loot boxes this week. The decision follows growing concern about the possible effects of loot boxes on children, and questions about whether they might be training or encouraging gambling-like behaviour.

If the government does decide to reclassify loot boxes as gambling, this will make a significant difference to how they’re handled in games with regard to their age ratings and designs. Titles that include them would need to bear an 18 age rating, or be redesigned so that they could continue to be sold to players under that age.

The topic of loot boxes has increasingly come under scrutiny in the last few years, with the DCMS recommending in September 2019 that loot boxes be regulated under the Gambling Act and that these items should not be sold to children, as part of a lengthy report looking at issues in the tech industry.

In the report, the DCMS also took issue with statements made by an EA representative in a hearing earlier in 2019 calling FIFA’s Ultimate Team packs “quite ethical and quite fun”, saying it was “noticeably out of step with the attitude of many gamers who contacted us following our evidence session.”

The CEO of UKIE (The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment) Dr Jo Twist has now provided the industry’s reaction to the government’s response to the DCMS’ 2019 report, saying “We’re pleased that the government’s response to the DCMS Select Committee’s report highlights both the importance of the games industry to the UK economy and the major steps taken by the sector since the report’s publication.

“The response shows the extensive action it has taken in regards to in game monetisation. This includes measures such as our ongoing Get Smart About PLAY campaign to increase the use of family controls in the UK, the introduction of the ‘paid random item’ descriptor to the PEGI age rating system, and commitment to publishing the probabilities of obtaining a paid randomised item in certain games on the major platforms.

“It also shows the work the industry has done to measure and increase its diversity, the role it has played in shaping global standards in esports and the important work around age appropriate design.”

She adds, “It’s positive that the government recognises the need for robust independent research relating to games, particularly in regards to loot boxes, and we look forward to working constructively to support that.”

Some other countries, such as Belgium, now class loot boxes as gambling, which has meant some titles available in the country that feature the mechanic have had to be adjusted or removed from sale.

The Guardian reports that any changes to the regulation around loot boxes could be included in a possible, wider overhaul of gambling legislation in the UK.