The Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes in video games in a bid to examine rising concerns that they may encourage problem gambling or compulsive habits.
The call for evidence will gather opinions from both players and their parents or guardians in addition to ‘rigorous, high quality data and research from video games companies, academia, civil society’.
Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage said: “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.”
The findings, according to the government, will offer a clearer understanding of the size of the loot box and in-game purchases market in the UK, how it operates and the impact of current protections such as parental controls and consumer regulations.
Loot boxes have been a topic of controversy in recent years, with concerns raised over whether they encourage children and younger audiences to gamble.
Loot boxes are items embedded within games, containing randomised rewards which are uncertain at the point of purchase. These can be cosmetic, such as ‘skins’ that change the appearance of an in-game character, or provide users with an advantage in gameplay.
Players do not know which item they will get until after they have opened the loot box and this chance element, according to the DCMS, has raised concerns they could encourage gambling-like behaviour, particularly among young people.
This video game feature is currently not covered by the UK’s existing gambling legislation due to the lack of monetary value associated with the items ‘won’ – as the topic of loot boxes blurs dynamics between competitive gaming and gambling.
Loot Boxes are set to come under further scrutiny later this year when the government undertakes its review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
In September 2019, DCMS called for further restrictions to be placed on the sale of loot boxes to those under- 18. Campaigning during the 2019 Snap Election, all major UK political parties stressed that the nation’s digital laws needed to be reformed in order to create safer online environments.
Carrying out a report on ‘addictive and immersive technologies’, the DCMS argued that online games should receive the same levels of age restriction as physical sales of gambling products to best protect its users, and that the gaming industry should contribute financially towards independent research into the long-term effects of gaming.
Meanwhile the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has previously urged the Conservative Government to introduce legislation which would classify loot boxes and skin betting as legally-recognised forms of gambling.
Gambling addiction and harm prevention charities GamCare and GambleAware have called for the government to support further research of gaming addiction fostering safer environments for younger audiences.