Whilst the rest of UK politics explodes around us like a flame ball of dog turds, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee has been taking a really good look at loot boxes and addictive practises within gaming.
You may recall that back in June EA was called in front of the DCMS – you can watch here or read a transcript here– and explained that their games do not have “loot boxes” they have “surprise mechanics”. Epic were also present and talked utter bollocks, saying they didn’t monitor how long people played Fortnite for. Here’s what the DCMS had to say about that.
We were struck by how difficult it was to get full and clear answers from some of the games and social media companies we spoke to and were disappointed by the manner in which some representatives engaged with the inquiry. We felt that some representatives demonstrated a lack of honesty and transparency in acknowledging what data is collected, how it is used and the psychological underpinning of how products are designed, and this made us question what these companies have to hide. It is unacceptable that companies with millions of users, many of them children, should be so ill-equipped to discuss the potential impacts of their products.
Cast you mind back two weeks ago to the slot machines and prize wheels in NBA 2K20 which are totally not gambling, because real money isn’t spent, but, well, are. The DCMS mentioned something similar.
Many games contain features that are highly similar to conventional gambling products, without gambling being the primary aim of the game. However, there are concerns that being exposed to such features from a young age might normalise gambling. One parent expressed concern that the game Bricky Farm, which is rated suitable for children, contains a gambling-like feature. He told us:
“Most worrying for me is a roulette style wheel mini-game whereby differing amounts of gems can be won for further advancement. This is where the game could become addictive to someone with a susceptibility but more than that it is introducing children as young as 4 to the ‘thrill’ of gambling.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will now investigate these not-gambling techniques “to produce an evidence-based review of the effects of gamblinglike game mechanics, including loot boxes and other emerging trends, to provide clarity and advice. This should be done within a timescale that enables it to inform the Government’s forthcoming online harms legislation.”
Here’s the big one, quite literally as a fair chunk of the report is on loot boxes. Firstly, games that have any sort of gambling mechanic, even if it doesn’t involve real money, will no longer be sold to kids.
We recommend that loot boxes that contain the element of chance should not be sold to children playing games, and instead in-game credits should be earned through rewards won through playing the games. In the absence of research which proves that no harm is being done by exposing children to gambling through the purchasing of loot boxes then we believe the precautionary principle should apply and they are not permitted in games played by children until the evidence proves otherwise.
That’s huge. Fortnite, FIFA, Apex Legends, they will all lose their child friendly ratings, but here’s the slam dunk where the DCMS tell the government that loot boxes are gambling and need to be regulated.
The Government should bring forward regulations under section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 in the next parliamentary session to specify that loot boxes are a game of chance. If it determines not to regulate loot boxes under the Act at this time, the Government should produce a paper clearly stating the reasons why it does not consider loot boxes paid for with real-world currency to be a game of chance played for money’s worth.
While these are recommendations rather than laws, Eurogamer say that “industry members have told Eurogamer they will be taken seriously, and pointed to Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as a prominent politician who has a keen interest in loot boxes and other publisher practices.”
The report covers a huge range of topics including gaming addiction and age ratings. In the UK age ratings apply to games sold in shops but online that does not apply and PEGI is used. “The Video Recordings Act should be amended to ensure that online games are covered by the same enforceable age restrictions as games sold on disks,” recommends the committee.
Now this may seem very odd, but the report is a bloody good read, they really have done a good job, you can find it on the link below.
Source: UK Parliament