England’s Children’s Commissioner (CCO) has now called on the UK Government to introduce tighter laws to help protect children while playing online games after a new report has stated that a new report found some youngsters are spending hundreds of pounds on in-game purchases via so-called loot boxes.
The non-departmental public body has spoken to children between the ages of 10 and 16 during its ‘Gaming the System’ study, looking at the experience of youngsters playing games online.
The report has stated that 93 per cent of the UK children participate in playing video games with the Children’s Commissioner Office (CCO), where they have found that some of these had expressed concerns about how they feel out of control of their spending on online games.
The CCO have stated that the amount of children spend on loot boxes can vary, with some spending more than £300 in one year. The CCO have also stated that some of the children likened buy a loot box to gambling, in that they do not know the contents until after they make a purchase.
This has been made particularly apparent within the football game FIFA, which sees gamers have the ability to be able to buy a player pack in the hope of improving their team, without knowing what they will get in the pack.
Youngsters have said that the lack of reward for some of these purchases has left them feeling as though they had wasted their money, while others spent more money in the hope of finding higher rated players in other packs.
It has also been flagged by the CCO that some children said they felt pressured from friends and online strangers to make such purchases. Others have said influence from famous gaming YouTubers was a factor in the behaviour.
Within the response, the CCO then said that given children are not permitted to gamble offline, then the same rules should apply when gaming online. Also, the CCO have called for urgent action to address its concerns.
The CCO have also stated that the Government should seek to limit the role of money in online games by updating current gambling laws to reflect the reality of children’s experiences of spending money in games. This would then include the listing one financial harm, as within scope of forthcoming online harms legislation.
Other suggestions which have been put forward by the CCO have included a call for the Government to amend the definition of gaming in section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 in order to regulate loot boxes as gambling. A cross-Parliament Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee made similar request last month.
In addition to this, the CCO have said that the Government should also undertake a wider review into the current definition of gambling in the Gambling Act. This would be to ensure that it accurately reflects new forms of gambling, including those forms found in online games.
In terms of games developers and platforms, the CCO have said that they should not be enabling children to progress within a game by spending money and limit spending to items that are not linked to performance.
It has also been suggested by the CCO that all games in which players can spend money should include features for gamers to track their historic spend, with maximum daily speed limits being introduced in such games and turned on by default for children.
CCO have said that parents also need to be more proactive through speaking to their children about the ways in which games companies monetise products, and discuss alternatives if they would like to avoid these aspects of gaming, such as new subscription-based services that have recently come to the market.
Loot boxes have attracted heavy criticism from various quarters in recent times due to the fact that children can spend freely on these items.
Thos month however, has been the Gaming Regulators’ European Forum (GREF) members complete their year-long study into gambling-like microtransactions in video games, but opted against specific recommendations to introduce measures against such features.
September 2017, saw gambling regulators from 19 countries including Malta, The Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom and France launch a study into gambling-like microtransactions, including loot boxes.
GREF members have stated that they did not feel that it could recommend the introduction of gambling regulation regarding loot boxes, as how they could be regulated would depend on each country’s definition of gambling.