The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) has issued its response to a call for evidence on loot boxes, video games, and their impact. Following its 2020 request for testimonies regarding concerns over gambling classification, addiction, and younger players, the UK government says it will not act on loot box regulations — at least for now.
Back in 2020, UK ministers considered reclassifying loot boxes as a gambling product. The debate around loot box rewards and whether or not they hold any monetary value left them in somewhat of a grey area, and the impact these systems had on children sat at the heart of the concern. Today, the DCMS’s response points to a belief that these things should not be accessible to unsupervised children, but it wants industry leaders to self-impose their own protections and standards. As we all know, corporate behemoths are great at self-regulation and protecting the most vulnerable. That’s sarcasm, by the way.
The DCMS says it has no intention of changing the Gambling Act to reclassify loot boxes right now but does acknowledge some of the harm.
“The call for evidence has found an association between loot boxes and harms,” wrote DCMS Secretary of State Nadine Dorries. “But we have not found whether there is a causative link.”
Apparently, trends over the last couple of years since launching its call satisfy immediate DCMS concerns. However, the report also notes that government involvement may do more harm than good since the verdict is still out on how loot boxes cause harm to the most vulnerable.
“As the evidence base on loot boxes is still emerging, and direct government intervention may risk unintended consequences,” wrote Dorries. “Our view is that it would be premature to take legislative action without first pursuing enhanced industry-led measures to deliver protections for children and young people and all players. As a result, the government does not intend to make changes to the Gambling Act or to other statutory consumer protections with regards to loot boxes at this time.”
At the end of the response, the DCMS maintains it “will not hesitate to consider legislative change” should game companies fail to protect young people and children. However, the current industry climate doesn’t really point to a future of protecting anyone. No part of me believes EA will regulate FIFA or that mobile games won’t feed on your worst impulses. Instead of rethinking design practices, recent titles with loot box systems just opt-out of launching in countries with more gambling regulations.
Everyone has a vice; I count plenty of free-to-play titles among my favorites. That’s not the problem. The problem is a need for social safety nets, regulations, and design that doesn’t feed on impulse control. It’s rather fitting that this comes out around the same time Unity CEO John Riccitiello tries to backpedal his remarks about compulsion loops in a Pocket Gamer interview. Perhaps he didn’t mean to let the “fucking idiot” remark slip, but it wasn’t clickbait. If you need a breakdown of how those concepts work in games, listen to some of the Fanbyte crew explain in this week’s TYFT.