Epic Risk Management has expressed deep disappointment that the UK has not recommended the introduction of legislation to govern the sale of loot boxes to minors.
These comments follow a two-year Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport inquiry that ruled against taking legislative action, after a call for evidence was opened in 2020.
Instead, the government is suggesting that the purchase of loot boxes be made unavailable to children and young people unless they are approved by a parent or guardian.
Furthermore, a working group will also be convened to unite games companies, platforms and regulatory bodies to develop industry-led protocols to protect players and reduce the risk of harm. This will include measures such as parental controls, and making sure transparent, accessible information is available to all players.
In issuing the government’s official response, secretary of state for digital, culture media and sport, Nadine Dorries, stated that “direct government intervention may risk unintended consequences” and that “it would be premature to take legislative action without first pursuing enhanced industry-led measures”
In addition to voicing plans to educate on the virtual items, the gambling harm minimisation group noted that “contrary to the government’s stance, we see loot boxes as gambling and as with any other gambling product, the sale of loot boxes to under 18s should not be legal”.
Jonathan Peniket, Epic Risk Management’s gaming and esports consultant, lost £3,000 during his teenage years to ‘Player Packs’ bought via FIFA.
“Whilst I am happy to finally see the much-delayed response finally released by DCMS, I find myself unsurprisingly disappointed with the conclusions made,” he commented. “Overall, this is a huge missed opportunity for strong and meaningful change.
“The emphasis placed on the lack of a ‘causal relationship’ found at this stage between engagement with loot box purchases and problem gambling in general reflects a lack of understanding that loot boxes are directly harmful as a lone entity, regardless of the fairly clear links to future gambling addictions.
“As much as I welcome the idea from the government’s response that loot box purchases should only be possible once unlocked by a parent or guardian as a step in the right direction, I would compare this notion to allowing 12-year-olds into betting shops so long as they obtain parental approval.
“I would suggest that placing more responsibility on the shoulders of parents here – without working to proactively educate parents on the realities of loot boxes and their potential dangers – symbolises an almost meaningless change.”
Furthermore, Epic noted that it will use the decision as a catalyst to expand its education delivery within the nation’s schools, emphasising that “now is the time for organisations like our own to go even further and expand the reach of our key messaging around the subject”.
Peniket added: “Epic Risk Management work with around 200 high schools and colleges each year to deliver free and independent gambling harm minimisation workshops, so as we deliver our final sessions of the 2021/22 academic year this week, the release of the response going into the summer break provides us with a perfect time to formulate a programme for the new academic year that places an even greater emphasis on the hidden risk of loot boxes within video games.
“It remains by far the most accessible means of gambling for under 18s in our country, so we will do all that we can to ensure that they – and those responsible for their upbringing – are as informed and protected as they can possibly be regarding the ongoing loot box issue.”