While Boris Johnson might have got the monarch’s position to suspend (or prorogue) parliament, there was news coming straight out of Westminster before the MP’s lost their seats. In a move only seen before in Belgium, the UK government published a report on immersive and addictive technologies.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, a select group of MPs, have published a report on the impact of video games, where they estimate that 32 million people play video games in the UK.
Including the emergence of Virtual Reality (VR), the monopoly of micro-transactions and why they might be controversial, and finally, the controversial Lootbox mechanics prevalent in videogames such as Star Wars Battlefront 2, Need For Speed Payback and other games.
According to the report, Lootboxes, which are random in-game rewards that can help players playing games, have been controversial in other countries, which eventually led to the mechanic in games being banned in Belgium. Other countries, such as Sweden and China, are also looking at reviewing the legality of this mechanic, to see whether the mechanic breaks the countries’ respective gambling laws.
The move follows lots of hearings with the UK parliament taking place over months with technology and gaming companies.
Loot boxes, according to this 84-page report, shouldn’t be regulated if they’re exclusively earned for in-game progress, but should be heavily regulated if they can be bought or sold for real money, even if to do that, players must convert their real money for in-game currency.
The report goes further, stating that if the loot boxes are purchased for real money, then at the least, the games and mechanics should be marked as containing gambling and age-restricted to bring them in line with the Gambling Act of 2005, regarding this sort of practice as a game of chance.
Currently, loot boxes receive legal protection because their rewards aren’t considered to contain items of monetary value, however, in the process of the hearings that have taken place in parliament, conducted by the DCMS, the world learned of one player spending “up to £1000” per month on loot box style mechanics to make sure he had the right players on FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode.
Damian Collins MP, (and head of the DCMS) spoke to The Guardian about it on Thursday the 12th of September 2019, stating the following:
“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies, but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high
time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”
The report also cites evidence from cognitive psychologists, who explain that these in-game features are “designed to exploit potent psychological mechanisms associated with problem behaviours, such as gambling-like behaviours”.
The Labour Party’s shadow DCMS Minister, Tom Watson stated that the report published today supported his case of th
e replacement of Tony Blair’s Gambling Act of 2005 to be replaced completely, and further said “This (the report) echoes the Labour Party’s long-standing position on loot boxes. However, making changes to the existing legislation will not be enough. We need regulation that is fit for the digital age, and this will require a whole new Gambling Act.”
In a statement given to Reuters, The Independent and The Guardian, Dr Jo Twist, the chief executie of gaming industry body UKIE, said “We will review these recommendations with utmost seriousness and consult with the industry on how we demonstrate further our commitment to player safety- especially concerning minors and vulnerable people.”