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UK government threatens to legislate on loot boxes if games companies don't step up parental controls

"Video games companies and platforms must do more"

The UK government has called for games companies to take greater responsibility in protecting children and young people from harm linked to loot boxes, including mental health issues and gambling problems. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said that games companies and platforms needed to ensure parental purchase controls and age restrictions were in place to let kids play without the risk of harm, and to put parents’ minds at ease. Xbox’s parental restrictions on loot box purchases for under-18s were singled out for praise, and the government now say they will legislate if the rest of the industry doesn’t follow suit.

Dorries' statement follows the results of a call for evidence on the effects of loot boxes issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2020. The report, which saw more than 32,000 responses from players and parents, found that players who paid for loot boxes “may be more likely to experience gambling, mental health, financial and problem gaming-related harms”.

The government is calling for companies to offer spending controls, and clear, accessible information for players to check what they’re spending. Their emphasis is on people who spend an unusual amount of money on loot boxes, and who might be at greater risk of harm. Children and young people buying loot boxes were highlighted as a particular concern.

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Submissions from within the games industry also contributed to the report, along with an independent review of academic studies. As a result of the report’s findings, the DCMS is setting up a working group of games companies, platforms and regulatory bodies to “develop industry-led measures to protect players and reduce the risk of harm”. A project called the Video Game Research Framework will also move forwards to investigate the effects with government backing.

"As a responsible industry, we have committed to exploring additional ways to support players and parents to build on our existing work developing and raising awareness of parental controls,” said Jo Twist, CEO of the UK’s gaing trade body Ukie.

The Independent Game Developers Association (TIGA) also committed to taking part in the working group, with CEO Dr Richard Wilson saying: “Children and young people should not be able to buy ‘loot boxes’ in video games without parental consent. TIGA also believes that vulnerable adults need to be protected against potential harms arising from loot boxes.”

Two years ago, a House Of Lords report recommended that the UK regulate loot boxes as a form of gambling. NHS bosses went a step further and calling for their sale to be banned. Other countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands have already legislated against loot boxes, resulting in Blizzard not launching Diablo Immortal there in June.

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