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UK Government’s loot box inquiry says no changes to law, asks industry to self-regulate

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The UK Government has issued a formal response to its 2020 call for evidence on loot boxes in videogames. In short: The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) doesn’t think the government should regulate loot boxes in videogames at this time, rather that the games industry should be encouraged to self-regulate in order to avoid the necessity of legislative action. 

This means loot boxes won’t fall under review of the UK’s sweeping Gambling Act. However, some hard guidelines that represent the government’s view are included: Loot box purchase should be unavailable to all children and young people unless enabled by a guardian, all players should have access to spending controls and transparent information, and the industry should give researchers improved access to data in order to gather better evidence and research to inform future policy.

“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,” said DCMS Secretary of State, the Rt. Hon. Nadine Dorries, MP, in her foreword to the report.

“We want to mobilise the industry’s creativity, innovation and technical expertise to deliver tangible progress, improving at pace protections,” says Dorries. “If this does not happen, we will not hesitate to consider legislative change.”

The primary reason for this decision seems to be twofold, according to the report. First, the industry has already taken steps towards mitigating harm in recent years. Second, concern that regulation may cause developers to simply drop out of the UK market rather than comply as it has in other countries like Belgium and The Netherlands.

The report is quite evasive on whether loot boxes are actually encouraging addictive behavior. It acknowledges that the damage associated with loot boxes “includes harms which have been associated with gambling” and that research shows they could be a “gateway” to further problem gambling. It concludes that “The call for evidence has found an association between loot boxes and harms, but we have not found whether there is a causative link.”

The UK’s major games industry body UK Interactive Entertainment—Ukie for short—, has responded positively, saying that it looks forward to working with the government’s new group investigating the issue further. That group, to include “industry, academics, and third sector partners”, will be pursuing further measures “to mitigate the risk of harms for children.” The report itself includes a commitment from Ukie to spend £1m over a multi-year span to highlight parental and spending controls.

The industry itself seems pleased, but focused response from players and the public is forthcoming. For proponents of regulation, the DCMS response probably looks like putting foxes in charge of the henhouse.

You can read the entire outcome of the call for evidence, at a whopping 32,000 words, on the UK Government website.

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