Calls for Loot Boxes to be banned
by Glenn Baird - September 12, 2019
A report published by the Department for Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) has seen MPs in the UK call for a ban preventing children from accessing loot boxes available in video games and for regulations to be placed on in-game spending.
MPs lobbying for a change in the law regarding loot boxes and in-game spending have argued that much of the evidence used previously to support their inclusion was lacking in “honesty and transparency”.
The Cost of Free Games
This all stems from a report that the DCMS have submitted, in which Kelvin Plomer, company director of player experience for Jagex, the company responsible for the production of games such as Runescape has been quoted saying that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month…” on in-game purchases.
Free to download video games like Fortnite make their money through the sale of in-game purchases. This has led to reports of young people incurring large debts as they look to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Despite the numbers provided by Jagex, the DCMS have claimed that information has not been forthcoming and that money needs to be spent by the video games industry to fund research into the psychological harm that may be caused by the lure of loot boxes and in-game purchases.
This was supported by a group of psychiatrists holding an interest in the links between mental health and gaming who told the DMCS that:
“…there should be appropriate funding and encouragement of further research into gaming disorder, of a high quality (emphasising pre-registered studies using open data), covering both general and clinical populations.”
Damian Collins, Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe and Chair of the DCMS said:
“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money,”
He went on to say that:
“Their business models are built on this but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users.”
In response to Mr Collins’ accusations Dr Jo Twist, the chief executive of UK Interactive Entertainment, said:
“The video games industry has always, and will continue to, put the welfare of players at the heart of what we do.
“The industry does not dispute that, for a minority, finding balance is a problem.
“This is why we are vocal in supporting efforts to increase digital literacy and work with schools and carers on education programmes.”
The Age of Honesty
Along with this research the DCMS have called for a review into of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which at the time could not have possibly taken into consideration the loophole that downloadable software would create. It is illegal for PEGI 12, 16 and 18 rated games to be sold in a physical format to anyone under those ages, but when it comes to downloads there is nothing more than an pledge of honesty from the user that they are old enough to play the game.
Whilst developers can work with age verifiers, they have little to do with the distribution of their games, something that is very hard to control or keep tabs on given the volume of platforms that they can be downloaded from. The DCMS have responded in their written report by recommending that:
“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.”
Your Money or Your Rank
The money that is generated through in-game purchases and loot boxes means that the industry are unlikely to want to see an change to the current system that is in place.
In particular, a game like Fifa Ultimate Team sees huge revenues from their releases and ensures this by updating stats based on weekly player performances that are only available that week and then releasing a new game every year that does not allow players to be carried over. Essentially, if you want to be the best, then you need the best players and that costs money.
Add to all of this the rising appeal of eSports and you have an industry that is constantly growing, making more money than ever and doing so, in part, through the appeal of in-game purchases and loot boxes.
The debate around loot boxes appeared to end last year when they were not deemed to be a form of gambling according to UK law. However, not everyone was happy with the decision.
In a recent press release Mr Collins brought up the debate again:
“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm,”
“Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up.
“We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”