DCMS criticised for ineffective policy on loot boxes 

DCMS has come under fire for not being tough enough on its policy related to loot box engagements and the safety of children and minors playing video games.

On Monday, DCMS announced that video game platforms must ensure that parental locks are applied to loot box purchases – requiring children/minors to get parental consent to purchase loot boxes and in-game rewards.

Parental locks were announced as the headline measure, taken from DCMS consultation on loot boxes, which was launched in the summer of 2020.

Of significance, DCMS held no plans to add loot box legislation in the government’s reform of UK gambling laws – a decision that has prompted backlash.

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza criticised the department of insufficient action on loot boxes, which should have been treated as a parental concern that “children will be exposed to financial and psychological harms”.

Writing a blog-post, de Souza accused DCMS of being overly reliant on ‘voluntary industry action’ that had recommended parental controls as a simple fix to the issue of children purchasing loot boxes.

“The Children’s Commissioner’s Office has previously reported on how loot box features can encourage children to spend excessively online to advance to further stages of games” – de Souza noted.

“Children have told us that buying loot boxes feels like gambling, and they worry about the impact of loot boxes on encouraging compulsive spending.”

The Children’s Commission has recommended that Clause-6 of the Gambling Act be expanded to capture loot boxes, bringing them into the scope of regulation.

The Dame’s comments have been echoed by gambling harm-prevention consultancy EPIC Risk Management – who stated that DCMS ‘had missed an opportunity’ to safeguard loot box engagements for the video games community.  

EPIC has recommended that Britain follow Belgium and ban loot box access to all players aged below 18.

“Whilst I am happy to finally see the much-delayed response finally released by DCMS, I find myself unsurprisingly disappointed with the conclusions made. Overall, this is a huge missed opportunity for strong and meaningful change,”  said Jonathan Peniket, EPIC’s video games consultant.

“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.”

DCMS stated that it was open to reviewing its policy on loot boxes, in which it has formed a working group of “publishers, platforms and regulatory bodies to develop industry-led measures to protect players and reduce the risk of harm”.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries outlined that the group would help the government lay the foundations for the UK to become the global leader in regulating the multi-billion-pound video games sector by providing the safest environment for children to play games.

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