A House of Commons committee has advised that video game loot boxes should be regulated as gambling and children prevented from purchasing them.
The recommendation comes as part of the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee’s report on immersive and addictive technologies, published on Thursday after months of parliamentary hearings with technology and gaming companies.
The Members of Parliament lobbying for the change say that big gaming companies have a duty to protect their players and consumers, especially children, from spending money on virtual items like loot boxes.
Head of the group of MPs, Damian Collins, said: “Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. It’s time for gaming companies to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users.”
The report cited evidence from cognitive psychologists that such in-game features are “designed to exploit potent psychological mechanisms associated with […] gambling-like behaviours”.
Academics told the DCMS committee there was not yet enough evidence on the psychological effects that gambling-style features in games have on children, partly because the industry has not released data it holds on the subject.
It’s worth looking at how much money these big corporations make from in-game content and microtransactions, or loot boxes as they are called here. According to Activision’s full-year earnings report the publisher made approximately $3.6 billion from this type of content in 2016, which definitely shows why they’re keen to keep microtransactions in their game.
Electronic Arts, the brain behind games such as FIFA and Madden NFL, makes roughly $1.3bn a year from extra content, according to chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen in 2016.
The group has also argued that video games should be labelled better, including warnings for parents which clearly show that the game features gambling elements.
Dr Jo Twist, the boss of UK Interactive Entertainment, has said: “The video games industry has always, and will continue to, put the welfare of players at the heart of what we do.”
Kerry Hopkins – vice president of EA games – has defended the company’s use of loot boxes, saying that they are “quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people”.
What do you think of this proposal? Whilst many are opposed to microtransactions or loot boxes, most of us are guilty of spending on extra content anyway.