The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced that the games industry must protect children from loot boxes, but has yet to announce any formal legislation. This is despite the fact a consistent association has been established between the often-maligned game mechanic and gambling in at least 15 studies, including a recent study by UK charity GambleAware.
Loot boxes are an in-game item that can often be purchased for real world money. A loot box system will often contain exclusive skins, weapons, characters and outfits and operate on a ‘blind bag’ model where the person making their purchase has no real idea what they’ll get.
Despite being a huge money maker for popular games like Call of Duty and FIFA Ultimate Team, the loot box model has fairly consistently fallen under scrutiny for being predatory by large swathes of the gaming audience. Several EU countries have either banned the sale of loot boxes entirely, or have enforced strict criteria that says whether they can be in a game or not.
After 22 months of research and consultation with industry experts on the matter, culture minister Nadine Dorries has announced the decision that the UK will not follow suit with the European Union, but will instead introduce “industry-led” protections to avoid risking “unintended consequences”, as “legislation to introduce an outright ban on children purchasing loot boxes could have the unintended effect of more children using adult accounts, and thus having more limited parental oversight of their play and spending”.
In response to the decision, video game researcher David Zendle remarked that with that policy approach, the “foxes are guarding the hen house”. In 2021, MP Richard Holden had previously said that Loot Boxes were definitely a “loophole” in gambling law.
“They are regulated in the same way as football stickers were when I was a kid and it is clear that these products have moved on so much faster than the laws governing them,” said Holden. “Real regulatory action is needed as soon as possible.”
“We expect games companies and platforms to improve protections for children, young people and adults, and for tangible results to begin to be seen in the near future,” said the DCMS. “If that does not happen, we will not hesitate to consider legislative options, if we deem it necessary to protect children, young people and adults.”