UK Parliament Committee Calls for Banning Loot Box Sales to Kids

If you are EA right now, you should be worried about the whole loot box issue in the UK as the Parliament Committee has officially recommended banning loot box sales to children.

After what was nearly nine months of evidence gathering, the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS) Committee published an 84-page report into immersive and addictive technologies on September 12th.

The inquiry took evidence from all corners of the industry, including developers, trade bodies, and academics, and reported a “lack of honesty and transparency.”

In part 3 of section 11, the report states:

“In contrast, we were struck by how difficult it was to get full and clear answers from some of the game and social media companies we spoke to and were disappointed by how some representatives engaged with the inquiry. We felt that some representatives demonstrated a lack of honesty and transparency in acknowledging what data is collected, how it is used and the psychological underpinning of how products are designed, and this made us question what these companies have to hide. It is unacceptable that companies with millions of users, many of them children, should be so ill-equipped to discuss the potential impacts of their products.”

The game companies that the committee spoke to were generally reluctant to accept that they might have a role in or responsibility to intervene proactively if a player’s spending fell outside of typical patterns. Moreover, claiming it would be too difficult to determine what level of spending might be harmful. One of the many examples that the report talks about is King, the Makers of Candy Crush Saga. Senior Vice President for King, Alex Dale, was interviewed and said they used to alert users when they reached a certain spending threshold, but stopped doing so due to player feedback. Thus further telling the committee:

“We would send an e-mail out when a player’s spend was $250 a week for the first time. It was an e-mail that said ‘we noticed you are enjoying the game a lot at the moment. Are you sure you are happy? with this?’ […]  We got back, ‘I [wouldn’t] spend money if I didn’t have it’ and things like, ‘I’m fine, please leave me alone.’ We felt it was too intrusive so we stopped doing that.”

The document shows a quote from the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggesting:

“There should be no in-game spending by children. Children are less prepared to deal with the potentially addictive nature of some modern computer games and are less able to make informed decisions about spending.”

Brad Enright of the Gambling Commission told them that even when games do not meet the regulatory threshold for gambling but contain gambling-like features, the regulator does not think the current age ratings are in line with public expectations — so certain games should not be available for ages 4+ or even 12+ (using Bricky Farm as an example).

Loot boxes didn’t fare any better as EA’s FIFA series was brought into the spotlight next under its loot box section, highlighting evidence that was provided by players. Included was what “Ultimate Team Mode” is, what it does, how a gambling commission survey found that 31% of 11 to 16-year-olds have paid money or used in-game items to open loot boxes, how much EA makes yearly off these loot boxes, and how some players have to spend between 800 to 1,000 pounds a year annually on FIFA and how their “packs” effect gameplay, stating:

“In order to compete, players feel like they need to buy hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds worth of packs in order to get the best players. Children are especially vulnerable because they lack the maturity to understand that these purchases are manipulative, and their parents may not understand that these purchases are entirely unnecessary.”

The Committee has talked to a few players and one suggested that players should only be allowed to purchase or unlock these players by in-game actions. When some of these concerns were put in front of Kerry Hopkins from EA, she responded that the way they have implemented this mechanic in FIFA “is quite ethical and fun.” Yet the committee noticed this was out of step with many of the gamers who contacted them following their evidence session, including those who rejected her characterization of packs not as loot boxes but as “surprise mechanics.” One gamer called the company’s testimony a “bare face lie” and another told them:

“The company has heavily marketed and referred to their systems as ‘loot boxes’ for several years and the mechanics of the system are exactly the same, no matter what they choose to call them.”

In the end, the UK Parliament Committee recommends that loot boxes should not be sold to children but earned through rewards won through playing games. In other words, how it used to be before loot boxes.

EA and the ESA have since responded by saying that they “don’t agree with all conclusions” but will continue dialogue with the UK government.

Personally, if I was EA or any major publisher, I would be worried.

Stay tuned to more from GamingLyfe.

Written by
A survivor of the 16-bit console wars, fan or horror films, and pro-wrestling. Lover of all things Sega. You can find me at Twitter.

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