DCMS in June first set out plans for a call to evidence and has now launched the initative, seeking opinions from players who have experience loot boxes, and their parents or guardians, as well as video games developers, academia, civil society and other organisations with an interest in the issue.
The popular in-game mechanic sees players purchase ‘blind boxed’ items for either virtual or real-word currency. They are then randomly awarded a virtual item that can be used in console games.
However, as players must pay money without knowing the item – or prize – they will receive, DCMS said the products could be considered a form of gambling, and familiarise players, some of whom are underage, with gambling mechanics.
DCMS announced the call for evidence in the wake of a select committee report into immersive and addictive technologies, which concluded that loot boxes should be classed as a game of chance and regulated under the 2005 Gambling Act.
“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,” Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage said.
“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. DCMS also plans to host a series of roundtables to discuss issues and solutions, such as protecting players from possible harm, in greater detail. The Department’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Tom Rodden, will also discuss recommendations with national research body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and lead a series of workshops with experts from research councils, academia and the video games industry.
According to the DCMS, the video games industry contributed around £2.60bn (€2.83bn/$3.31bn) to the UK economy in 2018, employing some 27,000 and has grown more than 16 times faster than the wider UK economy since 2010.
All findings will be presented to the government to offer a clearer understanding of the size of the loot box and in-game purchases market in the UK, as well as how it operates and the impact of protection measures already in place.
The government said it would take action on any major outcomes from the call for evidence, with loot boxes already set to be considered alongside a review of the Gambling Act. The government will also undertake further research into the wider impact of video games.
In July, the House of Lords’ Gambling Select Committee highlighted loot boxes as one of the areas in which it recommended changes to better protect players. It said that the government should consider amended the current version of the Gambling Act to include language related to loot boxes.
The House of Lords last week also launched the Peers for Gambling Reform, a new that will campaign for the reform of the gambling industry in Great Britain, including a focus on loots boxes and their impact on children.
In July, the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) also partnered a number of research teams from Newcastle and Loughborough Universities to launch a new portal educating parents and carers about the risks of loot boxes.
‘Parent Hub’, which will feature resources, information and activities aimed at helping to safeguard children online, has been developed using funding from Lottoland, GVC Holdings and Playtech.