EPIC Risk Management: loot box sales should be limited to over-18s

Loot box

A raft of guidelines charged with driving loot box protections are “a huge step in the right direction”, however, “there is still a long way to go”, suggests Dave Sproson, Head of Safer Gambling at EPIC Risk Management.

In a recent blog for the gambling harm minimisation consultancy, which follows a BBC interview, Sproson noted that “we owe it to the next generation” to heighten awareness of protections from harmful elements of gameplay.

“At EPIC Risk Management, we have long been calling for a complete restriction on any access to loot boxes for under 18s, as their mechanisms are an obvious gateway to gambling,” he wrote.

These can be accessed through gameplay, or purchased with in-game items, virtual currencies or directly with real-world money, and are intended as an additional supplement to play.

Recent guidance introduced by a Technical Working Group, the work and research of which was led by industry trade body UK Interactive Entertainment, are designed to drive “improvements and protections”.

Among these are an introduction of technological controls designed to prevent under-18’s from purchasing loot boxes without a parent or guardian’s consent. 

However, the TWG highlighted the limitations of parental controls in video games “as only as effective as the underlying age verification process”. Game developers and platform providers have been urged to adopt enhanced age-verification solutions to ensure the use of loot boxes for all users. 

Further recommendations include a public awareness campaign and more lenient refund policies. The industry is also urged to disclose probability information transparently in a bid to allow players to make more informed decisions about their purchases.

“We owe it to the next generation to protect them from the harmful elements of game play”

However, Sproson suggested that these may not go far enough. “The guidelines … are a huge step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go and generally, my opinion – and that of EPIC Risk Management – is that it should be a legal requirement for loot boxes to only be sold to people over the age of 18, as is the case in some neighbouring countries like Belgium and the Netherlands,” he said. 

“This is something that has been under discussion over the last 12 months in the UK and we hope it is a policy that will be put into place in the future.”

However, despite reiterating a belief that more could be done to shield children “from the risk that loot boxes pose”, Sproson noted that “it is refreshing to finally see some movement in an area that is only growing in size year by year”.

He concluded: “Some video game companies release their games for free, knowing children will then spend large sums of money on them, and under 18s make up a huge portion of the above amount spent.

“The most important takeaway from this latest development is that it only highlights the need for education across the board. 

“The education sessions that our teams present in schools are absolutely critical to our aim of prevention, but more than that, we need to raise further awareness among parents and the games industry themselves.

“My story … is just one of countless cases every year where loot boxes, if they become an addictive pastime, can become harmful to individuals and their families. 

“We owe it to the next generation to protect them from the harmful elements of game play and educate adult gamers on the potential risks, so that they can make their own informed decision on their relationship with the loot box element of their favourite games.”