DCMS launches consultation on loot boxes

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has launched its call for evidence on loot boxes.

The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has launched a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes in video games in order to establish whether the feature can encourage or lead to gambling-related problems.

A loot box is essentially a digital microtransaction in a video game, where a player can pay real money for a digital box which contains a selection of randomized items for use in-game and these items are only revealed to players after payment has been made.

These items can range from cosmetic items such as outfits or in-game items to help give players a competitive edge. Some examples of loot boxes include player packs in the FIFA series, loot crates in Overwatch, and airdrops in the Call of Duty series.

As players can purchase loot boxes with real-world money and are awarded randomised items, the DCMS, and other bodies, have said that they can be considered a form of gambling.

The DCMS’s call for evidence

Now that its initiative has been launched, the DCMS will seek opinions from video game plates who have experience with loot boxes, their parents and guardians. In addition to this, the DCMS will also seek to hear from academics, game developers, consumers and other organisations with an interest in the topic. 

Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage said: “Our valued video game industry is making good progress developing safer environments for our children to play in, such as parental controls that can be set to schedule and limit playtime.

“But we’ve listened to parents’ concerns about loot boxes and it’s right that we fully examine and understand any evidence of the harm or links to problem gambling they can cause, so we can decide if action is needed.”

The call for evidence will remain open until 22 November 2020 and the DCMS will host several roundtables to discuss issues and solutions such as protecting video game players from possible harm.

The department’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Tom Rodden will also discuss the recommendations with the national research body, UK Research and Innovation and lead several educational workshops.

The findings will be presented to the government to provide a clearer understanding of the size of the market for loot boxes and microtransactions in the UK, as well as how it operates. The government said it would take action on any major outcomes from the call for evidence. Loot boxes are already set to be considered alongside a review of the Gambling Act.

The stances on loot boxes

The DCMS announced the call for evidence in June, following a select committee report into immersive and addictive technologies in September 2019, which argued that loot boxes should be classified as a game of chance.

The report on immersive and addictive technologies saw the DCMS argue that online games should receive the same levels of age restrictions as physical sales of gambling products. 

In July, a House of Lords’ Gambling Select Committee report argued that loot boxes should be regulated to help protect players. The report also said that the government should consider amending the Gambling Act to include loot box regulations. 

July also saw the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) partner with research teams from Newcastle and Loughborough Universities to launch a new online portal to help educate parents and carers on the risks of loot boxes.

Last week, the House of Lords also launched the Peers for Gambling Reform group, which will focus on reforming the gambling sector. This will include looking at loot boxes and their impact on minors.

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