The UK government has announced that it will be looking into the issue of loot boxes in video games, amid rising concerns about a link with gambling.
The Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a consultation period. They are asking for evidence on the impact of loot boxes in video games in an attempt to evaluate the significance of suggestions that loot boxes encourage problem gambling or compulsive habits.
The call for evidence aims to gather opinions from both players of video games and their parents or guardians along with data and research from other bodies, including academia, the video games industry and other groups.
Speaking about the consultation period, Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture said that the industry had been making progress on player safety, but there remained concerns:
“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.”
DCMS say that they hope to gain a clearer understanding of the size of the loot box market in the UK, how it operates, and to what extent current protections are effective.
Loot boxes have been the subject of great controversy in recent years, with concerns raised over suggestions that they encourage children to gamble. Embedded within a variety of video games, loot boxes contain random rewards, unknown at the time of purchase. These range from appearance-changing ‘skins’ for use in the game or additional powers or features to improve performance in the game. While in-game purchases are common in modern video games, it is the randomised element of loot boxes that have raised concerns about encouraging a form of gambling behaviour.
As it stands, loot boxes are not covered by current gambling legislation as the items won are not considered to have monetary value. This gap in the legislation is likely to be one of the issues covered when the government undertakes its long heralded review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
Around a year ago, in September 2019, DCMS called for more restrictions on the sale of loot boxes to under-18s, and during last December’s General Election, the need to create safer environments online for children was emphasised by all the major political parties.
DCMS has argued that online games should attract the same levels of age restriction as apply for the physical sales of gambling products in order to protect players. They have also suggested that the gaming industry should contribute to research into the long-term effects of gaming.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has urged the UK government to introduce legislation to classify loot boxes and skin betting as forms of gambling, while gambling charities GamCare and GambleAware have also called for more research into protecting younger people online.