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NHS Mental Health Director Recommends Banning Lootbox Games Aimed at Kids, UKIE Reiterates Existing Counter-Measures

Lootboxes

While the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) has recommended a ban on games with lootboxes aimed at children, UK trade body The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) has reiterated many tools and methods are already in place.

Comments by the NHS

On January 18th, the NHS published the recommendations of NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch to ban the sale of video games with lootboxes aimed specifically at children.

“Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.

Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.”

The announcement also cited a report [1, 2] by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), stating that over half of young people (11 to 24, with 70% being aged between 11 and 17) felt that playing a video game could lead to a young person gambling.

Over half of those surveyed also felt they saw “the relationship between gambling and gaming as a negative one for young people.” The report also claimed 79% of the survey takers believed “buying a loot box could be addictive for a young person.”

Murdoch has proposed the following:

  • “Ban sales of games with loot boxes that encourage children to gamble
  • Introduce fair and realistic spending limits to prevent people from spending thousands in games
  • Make clear to users what percentage chance they have of obtaining the items they want before they purchase loot boxes
  • Support parents by increasing their awareness on the risks of in-game spending”

In addition and acting “in response to growing concerns about addiction to gaming,” the NHS states they have opened a new treatment center, along with 14 more NHS gambling clinics across the UK. This is part of the NHS Long Term Plan to tackle mental health issues, which needs to be backed by “at least” £2.3 billion in extra funding within the next five years.

The announcement also cited the UK Gambling Commission, stating that 55,000 children are deemed as having a gambling problem. It should be noted back in 2018, the UK Gambling Commission refuted there was any comparison between gambling and loot boxes.

This is (as the NHS states) due to the law stating that there is “no official way to monetise what is inside of loot boxes.” This is despite third party websites offering such things, in flagrant disregard of the game’s terms of service.

The NHS itself estimates 400,000 people in England have a “serious gambling problem.” Citing “recent data,” they also claim that more than half of UK parents do not supervise their children when playing video games “intended for people aged 18 or over”, or having never played the game themselves.

In addition, they state that 86% of parents believed that a child playing an 18 rated game would have “no influence” on them, while 62% would take games away from their children “after they noticed a problem.”

Finally, the announcement cited the UK Parliament’s UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendation to ban selling loot boxes to children in September 2019.

The committee’s inquiry involved speaking to industry representatives, including game developer representatives, social media representatives, trade bodies, and academics.

This resulted in blunderous comments by some- including EA claiming lootboxes were “surprise mechanics,” and Epic Games saying “I would disagree with the statement that Epic makes money from people playing the games after much badgering.

The announcement concluded with words of support by Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, psychiatrist, and Founder of the Central and North West London’s National Problem Gambling Clinic.

“As the Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the first NHS clinic to treat gaming addiction, I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals. Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched. We need an evidence-based approach to ensure our young people and gamers in general do not continue to be subjected to new and increasingly harmful  products without our intervention.”

Comments by UKIE

Prior to the comments made by the NHS, UKIE had begun their “Get Smart About P.L.A.Y.” campaign at the start of January, 2020.

The campaign was designed to raise awareness of, and encourage parents to utilize parental controls in video games, manage screen-time and in-app purchases. P.L.A.Y. also acts as a mnemonic and acronym:

P – Play with your kids. Discover amazing games and understand what they play and why.

L – Learn about family controls for your console.

A – Ask what your kids think. Discuss ground rules before setting restrictions.

Y – You’re in charge. Set restrictions that work for your family.

CEO of UKIE Dr. Joe Twist (OBE) stated “These controls can effectively help manage screen time and age-appropriate play even when you’re not in the room. It doesn’t take long to set up the controls and it means families can enjoy games together safely. If a child was given a bike at Christmas, we would expect them to also be given stabilisers – family controls are really no different.”

In a statement issued to GamesIndustry.biz, a UKIE spokesperson stated the industry was already taking their responsibility seriously, and were utilizing methods such as parental controls, and displaying the odds of lootboxes.

“The games industry takes its responsibility to players very seriously and acknowledges that some people are concerned. This is why the industry provides guidance on how to manage, limit or turn off spend in games with the help of family controls, through a number of public information sites across the world.

The games industry has already committed to measures to inform players about purchasing choices, including in regards to loot boxes. New platform policies will require optional paid loot boxes in games to disclose information on the relative rarity or probability of obtaining randomized virtual items by the end of 2020, with many companies doing this voluntarily already.

The government has committed to conducting a review of the Gambling Act, which loot boxes will form a part of. We look forward to working constructively with them on it.”

In the ongoing controversy surrounding lootboxes, several governmental bodies within nations, and their politicians [1, 2, 3] threatened to take legal action against developers.

EA even removed premium currency from FIFA 18 and FIFA 19 after Belgium authorities made their they deemed lootboxes as being on-par with gambling. In addition several companies pulled their games from service within Belgium.

The crux of the lootbox argument seems to center around whether it is the responsibility of the parents or the government, to prevent children from accessing materials or actions that could be inappropriate or ruinous. Similar arguments occurred in the past over violence, and sexual content. What should be done in this case?

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

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Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.