UK’s children’s commissioner calls for tighter legislation on lootboxes

    
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A report from UK children’s commissioner Anne Longfield is calling for stricter laws on lootboxes and to amend current gambling laws to include lootboxes, once again raising the matter to Parliamentary attention.

Longfield’s report includes research and testimonials that state children are concerned that they are gambling when they purchase lootboxes in games like FIFA, with some children spending hundreds of GBP to chase their losses. As such, Longfield is recommending that UK lawmakers quickly amend section 6 of the 2005 Gambling Act to regulate lootboxes as gambling, as well as impose a legally enforceable age rating system on digital products and additional warnings for games that feature in-game spending.

The report also directed its focus to the length of time children spend playing video games, bringing up the concern of addiction to gaming as well. According to the report, 93% of children in the UK play video games, with children ages 10 and 11 spending two to three hours a day in online titles like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft and children ages 15 and 16 spending one to three hours a day in games like FIFA and Rainbow Six Siege.

MPs in the House of Commons have previously called for lootboxes to be classed as gambling in the UK and to bar children from purchasing games with lootboxes for sale, while the National Health Service has recently opened a special clinic to help children and young adults who claim to be addicted to video games.

UK Interactive Entertainment, one of the country’s games industry trade bodies, has responded by pointing out efforts already in place by the UK games industry to educate people about video gaming such as the consumer site AskAboutGames and lesson plans for schools. “We recognise the need to educate players, parents and carers about safe and sensible play habits and for the industry to take an appropriate role in doing so,” said chief executive Jo Twist.

You can check out our previous coverage of the lootbox situation in the UK below:

source: The Guardian, thanks to The Dead Secret World Game for the tip!

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Adam Russell

In game purchases should have 2 step verification so that the actual owner of the credit card has to approve of the purchase.

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Arktouros

Given the UK’s recent failures in Age Verification I’m pretty skeptical about their ability to realistically determine people’s age.

I’m also continuously baffled how children get access to all these funds. Maybe it was just me growing up, but I certainly wasn’t given thousands of dollars on a whim let alone access to ruin the family funds. It stands to reason to me if they got access to payment information from presumably a parent it isn’t going to be that much more of an ask for them to get access to their age verification/identifying information as well.

Do we really want these companies who get compromised on the regular to now have access to personal identifying information as well? I mean basically this boils down to I have to risk identity theft for the rest of my life because some shithead who can’t be fucked into parenting their child and making sure they don’t piss away their life savings when they hand them their credit card no questions asked.

Oh and I’m going to go ahead and say “Called it” when I said people will end up conflating the lock box and gaming addiction issues. If you say things in games can be psychologically manipulative and addicting (lock boxes) it’s not going to take very long before people start making the same claims about the games themselves.

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Jack Pipsam

Side Note: The UK’s porn laws are just nuts, there’s no way they could have ever worked.

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Arktouros

Well certainly, and some parts of that don’t apply, such as their inability to regulate websites outside of their country. However concerns over identity theft and what steps are taken to prove age and how secure that data would be with these corporations still stand on any topic of age verification.

Age verification is a pretty challenging topic when you get down to it.

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Zora

In theory, it’s “that easy” to achieve: you just tell companies lootboxes are fine if they accept to rate the game 16+ and that’s their choice to.

In practice, until “surprise mechanics” aren’t codified as actual gambling that’s just not possible to enforce. And that would require looking at more than just videogames since that stuff has been around in every product aimed at kids for half a century now, without any form of regulation whatsoever.

/has dreadful memories of stikcers publishers sending pushers to offer the first sample for free at primary school kids right out of the school entrance

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Schmidt.Capela

Actually, the report is asking for the Gambling Act to be amended to equate lootboxes with gambling. Which is what I sure hope happens.

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Mark Jacobs

Few quick notes:

1) They interviewed 29 kids in total.

2) Here’s the paper – https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/CCO-Gaming-the-System-2019.pdf

3) Here’s the accompanying paper – https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publication/gaming-the-system/

4) One of their recommendations is scary for publishers- “Developers and platforms should not enable children to progress within a game by spending
money. Spending should be limited to items which are not linked to performance – e.g. aesthetic items such as new outfits. ” If this was enacted, expansions, DLC, etc. would not be permitted in games for people 16 years old and younger.

For those that care about these issues, the papers are worth reading.

And, as always, I hate lootboxes too, especially in kids’ games.

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rafael12104

Cool. Thanks for the links!

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Mark Jacobs

You’re welcome Rafael!

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Schmidt.Capela

I suspect expansions, at least in the traditional sense, would be safe; the traditional expansion, after all, is a purchase that you make out of the game and adds a hefty amount of actual content (not just bonuses or upgrades), often to play after you have already completed the original game (and, thus, not required to progress in it), and typically at a lower cost per hour of extra gameplay than the original game provided.

Smaller paid content drops, though, could very much be at risk. And it would clearly outlaw a lot of microtransactions on games without appropriate age restrictions.

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Mark Jacobs

SC, yeah, in theory it should be okay but given how the real world works, we could see an issue within the EU and US where certain places interpret it to mean one thing and other places say it means something else. Pubs/devs already have issues with that and if is exacerbated by well-meaning, but not well-written legislation, trouble ensues. That was one of my concerns with the GDPR as well as legislation that’s being talked about here – it’s need to be as clear and straightforward as possible. Neither of which politicians of all strips excel at. :(

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Arktouros

The Hawley legislation would ban all expansions as you pointed out in the US if it gets passed under the P2W sections for selling power. Like you can see they’re not intending that to be the case, but 100% the way they worded that section is you can’t sell anything added onto the game that increases power. The whole thing is just outright absurd.

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Mark Jacobs

Ark, yep, Hawley’s stuff is definitely concerning. And of course, where are the leading publishers and the Eternally Stupid Association in all of this?

And yes, I have an issue or two with the ESA. :)

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Arktouros

29 Kids. What a sham.

This is why I’m eternally skeptical anytime someone says there’s “research” on this topic. It’s always reddit surveys and nonsensical garbage like this.

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Mark Jacobs

Ark, yep, 29 kids and a handful of games is not a proper sample size to begin with, especially if you are talking about making sweeping changes.

This is why I’ve been saying here that the games industry needs to get ahead of this stuff and of course, we haven’t.

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Arktouros

The general problem I think at this stage is that there’s such a level of divisiveness between publishers/developers vs players that nothing they really do to get ahead of or anything will improve the perception of them. The ESA or big publishers could try to get out ahead of things such as announcing showing the odds of drops (which people have dubbed “ethical” loot boxes) but again that was just met with scorn and jeers that they knew regulation was coming and they’re just throwing out token efforts to address the issue. Equally if they get ahead of it and do their own research into checking for a causal link between gambling and loot boxes it’ll be disregarded because they paid to have that research done.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

More regulation = more underground private servers and less tax revenue. I wonder what will be more important to the authorities eventually?

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Schmidt.Capela

Which, if done as a way to continue selling lootboxes, would be classified as providing gambling to minors, and thus a criminal offense leading to hefty fines and potentially even jail time for anyone in the UK operating or advertising them.

Besides, people would be much less likely to purchase lootboxes tied to seedy underground servers that could disappear at any time, taking with them any and everything the player has ever won from those same lootboxes. Thus, still an unqualified improvement from my point of view.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

The revenue would not go to anywhere in the UK. but if that’s how the authorities want things to go then who am I to argue. It is like parents don’t exist to oversee their offspring’s online activity and the nanny state is the only one “qualified” enough to do that. How very silly of me to assume otherwise.

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Schmidt.Capela

If I understood the gambling regulations correctly, gambling in the UK has an extra 15% tax on gross revenues. And it’s payable on the place where the sale was made (which, for online sales, is where the consumer is), meaning no matter where in the world the publisher sells from, UK would still be entitled to collect 15% of the price of every lootbox sold to UK customers from them. So, if you are concerned about loss of taxes, don’t be; after all, gambling is one of the most heavily taxed enterprise in the world.

BTW, I wouldn’t trust most adults to safely deal with harmful influences, so I very much welcome governments regulating potentially harmful activities and products, within reason. And I do think regulating gambling, and classifying lootboxes as a form of gambling, to be pretty reasonable.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

I doubt the UK will ever send anyone to prison for playing a video game. But I will get the popcorn ready.

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Schmidt.Capela

You do know that there were already successful convictions in the UK for gambling using in-game currencies, right? Those convictions hinged on the gamblers also allowing customers to cash out, changing their virtual currency into real money, but classifying lootboxes as gambling would remove that required step for them.

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Armsbend

I am not British – but my guess is that Brexit is sucking up every bit of oxygen in the entire Kingdom.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not quite. And with the possibility of Brexit being delayed (again), the parties might be looking at any potential easy wins they could have before the inevitable election that is to come, and this one — due to having cross-party support — could fit the bill.

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3dom

The same bureaucrats who covered up ethnic grooming gangs prostituting local children for decade(s) – suddenly care about children. How touching.

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Schmidt.Capela

Doesn’t make the issue any less serious or worth tackling.

Though I do recognize I have a bias here; I utterly hate lootboxes and few things would make me happier than seeing them completely banned from gaming, period.