The Children’s Commissioner for England has called upon the UK Government to regulate loot boxes under The Gambling Act. They’re worried that the laws surrounding loot boxes are far too loose, and need to be tighter in order to protect children by monitoring both the amount they’re spending, and the length of time they’re playing games for.
A report that was published yesterday, Gaming The System, researched the effects of gaming on young people. The major concerns the study flagged up were peer pressure, as well as the time and money spent whilst online gaming. However, the report also highlighted the benefits of online gaming for young people, leaning heavily on the social aspect of it. I don’t think that this point is emphasised enough, because online gaming can be a huge boost to a young person’s social development.
The study saw children between 10 and 16 interviewed about their gaming habits. Some of them recognised the dangers of online gaming, including a 16 year old FIFA player who explained how someone could spend all of their money on loot boxes, or FIFA Ultimate Team Packs, and end up with nothing worthwhile to show for it. A young female gamer described how she felt as though she’d be called trash by her friends for using a default skin in Fortnite, which in essence forced her to purchase a premium skin, or the Battle Pass. The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, says that this is exactly how game companies prey on young people. They know that there’s a desperate need to keep up with friends, and if that means purchasing skins in a game, then that’s what children will do. Longfield added that the laws around gaming need to be tighter because 93 percent of children in the UK are playing games, and games stray too close to gambling far too often.
Longfield says that children have expressed a concern that they are gambling when purchasing loot boxes, and it’s clear that they’ve spent hundreds of pounds chasing a particular item that may be unattainable. As a result, she wants the UK government to treat loot boxes as gambling, regulate them, and introduce a daily spending limit to reassure both the children playing games, and their parents who may not be aware of the issue.
It was also suggested by Longfield that developers introduce a way for players to track their spending in the games they play. She said that the legal age rating system should be more strongly enforced in online games as it is with physical retail versions. She even goes as far as saying that online games need to become part of digital citizenship lessons in schools, which would see teachers who are aware of how online games work explaining the key aspects to children, giving them the information they need in order to avoid getting caught spending too much money, or becoming hooked by loot boxes.
Currently the UK games body UKIE run schemes and workshops to inform children and parents about the benefits and dangers of online gaming. UKIE has apparently told Eurogamer that further research like this is welcome, since it helps them improve their workshops and better inform the people they interact with.
Over the past year or two there has been an increase in the concern over children playing games. With Gaming Addiction now a recognised health condition, the situation is only going to become more extreme as time goes on, unless children are given a way to better control their behaviour. The major issue with a daily spending limit is that developers rely on the individuals who want to spend hundreds of pounds in their games to pay the bills. These individuals are referred to as whales, and while they’re an important part of games, they are also more often than not, adults.
Only time will tell how far the UK government is willing to take the control of online games. Currently the government has more pressing matters with Brexit, but once that has settled down it seems likely that online gaming will become a key target.