The new guidelines from UK video games industry trade body UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) regarding loot boxes has been welcomed by one of the organisation’s most actively involved in the debate, EPIC Risk Management.
Dave Sproson, the consultancy’s Head of Safer Gambling, discussed the topic in a recent blog post and BBC interview. Overall, the group believes that the guidelines are a ‘huge step in the right direction,’ but added that more changes are needed.
One of the opening questions asked what are the concerns around loot boxes raised by EPIC and others? Sponson explained that loot boxes – which are included in games as an ad-on to standard play – have potential to cause harm among some groups, but are also not fully understood, particularly by the parents of children who play video games.
“At first glance, loot boxes are seen as a fun addition to a game; they mostly contain cosmetic items such as costumes and appearance modifications for your character,” he said.
“Generally, you can ‘earn’ them for free by playing the game for periods of time and accumulating an in-game currency to spend on the boxes. This differs game by game, but most allow this sort of mechanic.
“The harm starts to occur when you can’t acquire the boxes at a fast enough rate and so many justify spending money by saying it’s saving you the time you can spend with family or friends, rather than spending even longer playing the game.”
EPIC has repeatedly cited loot boxes as an area of concern relating to gambling harm, calling for ‘critical’ regulation of the gaming feature in May last year. The group notably called for a ban on the sale of products to under-18s.
The guidance from Ukie, developed in cooperation with the DCMS’ Technical Working Group (TWG) as part of the department’s call for evidence, has encouraged better spending controls and more transparent information on areas such as probability.
This is significant as the primary concern around loot boxes is that under-18s will purchase the product with little to no idea of what added gaming features the asset will unlock. This has been equated by some as a form of gambling or a normalisation of gambling.
This thinking has led to a more hardline approach to loot boxes in some countries, with Belgium and the Netherlands outright banning the products, with Australia also looking towards strengthening its regulation. The UK has not pursued this route, however, and DCMS has faced some criticism over its loot box policies.
Sponson reflected that it is ‘refreshing’ to see movement in loot boxes, a segment of the video games industry which is ‘only growing in size year by year’ – he pointed to an estimation that loot boxes will generate sales of around US$20.2bn by 2025.
He concluded: “Some video game companies release their games for free, knowing children will then spend large sums of money on them, and under 18s make up a huge portion of the above amount spent.
“The most important takeaway from this latest development is that it only highlights the need for education across the board. The education sessions that our teams present in schools are absolutely critical to our aim of prevention, but more than that, we need to raise further awareness among parents and the games industry themselves.”