The UK’s children’s commissioner is looking to get loot boxes and microtransactions in video games regulated.
Over in the UK, the children’s commissioner for England has published a report that calls on the government to regulate loot boxes, labeling them as gambling. The report voices concern over how much time and money children are spending on online video games.
The report indicates that it has researched the effects of gaming in young children, asking children ranging from the ages 10 to 16. While the positive side of the effects of gaming focuses on the social aspect, showing that games can allow these children a way to speak, and spend time with friends online rather than in person, there are many negative factors that are mentioned.
Some of these negative effects were children saying they’re teased, or bullied by both friends or strangers, with some saying they notice a change in behavior from friends when they’re behind the privacy of a headset, and with no consequences for their actions. One player highlights how they built a football stadium in Minecraft, then their friend’s brother destroyed it all, leading to the child feeling annoyed.
Another heartbreaking quote comes from a 10-year-old Fortnite player named Nina, who says, “If you’re a default skin, people think you’re trash”. Epic Games’ Fortnite uses a system called Battle Pass, a microtransaction that allows players to pay and then play to unlock character skins and cosmetics. Not having these exclusive skins ends up making children feel embarrassed, and think they appear poor to their friends.
And of course, the report goes into the dangers of children interacting with strangers, with strangers scamming children, or trying to gather personal information in exchange for, as the report mentions, Robux Generators in Roblox.
The children were also asked about their time spent playing games, with younger children saying they play for about two or three hours a day, and the older children playing video games for longer. The study suggests that the close link between online gaming and the child’s social life means that, in some cases, children feel compelled to play.
The study also looks at the effect microtransactions and loot boxes have on children, stating that the amount of money they’re spending has risen annually, with some spending £300 in a year. The study found that pressure from friends and influence from popular YouTuber’s were a factor.
Of course, the study does bring to light how video games are designed to encourage spending, FIFA being used as an example in which you can either work hard to progress, or pay to improve.
Children also stated that video games are similar to gambling, with a 16-year-old FIFA player named Tim saying, “It’s like gambling- you could lose your money and not get anyone good, or get someone really good”. This process, of course, leading to children feeling as if they’ve wasted money.
One particular excerpt from the report mentions the industry’s attempt to moderate loot boxes,
“There has been some action from industry to address harms associated with loot boxes. For example, Google, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have all recently committed on their respective platforms to disclose the odds of receiving types of in-game items from loot boxes in future titles”
This would be referencing similar solutions to loot boxes, such as Rocket League replacing loot crates with Blueprints, allowing players transparency. However, Nintendo has recently launched Mario Kart Tour on mobile devices which features loot box mechanics to unlock new characters and more.
The full report goes into far more depth and includes the positives to come from playing video games, such as; encouraging strategic thinking, teamwork, and creativity.
The children’s commissioner brings up the fact that if gambling is not allowed in children’s offline lives, then their online lives should be the same, Children are unlikely to have the measures and control that adults have to protect themselves against gambling.
“If there are concerns around exposure to gambling at an early age offline, then those same concerns should translate into the online world.”
The commissioner also mentions that the Government’s proposed duty of care addresses harms revealed in the study, such as cyberbullying and violent content, but it’s specifically targeting social media, and not gaming. The policy recommends that urgent action is called to address the harms not covered by the Government’s current duty of care.
We’re previously seen the FTC Chairman state that the FTC will be looking into loot boxes, while companies such as Ubisoft has stated, “If players simply didn’t buy these crates, they would not be added into games in future.” The lack of moderation from the gaming industry seems to have sparked deeper involvement from the Government to ensure video games aren’t targeting children with microtransaction methods. Belgium has already taken steps last year to deem them illegal so it certainly seems like the industry will be facing more pressure.