Another life for loot boxes?

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The Government has today launched a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes in video games, “to examine concerns they may encourage or lead to problem gambling” (see here).

This has been expected.  Back on 8 June 2020, as part of the Government’s response to the DCMS Select Committee Report,[1] the Government said that it would be launching a call for evidence into the impact of loot boxes on in-game spending and gambling-like behaviour later this year.[2]

Since then, the House of Lords has published its report ‘Gambling Harm – Time for Action’[3] which called on the Government to take immediate steps to bring loot boxes within the scope of the Gambling Act 2005 (GA 2005).[4]

From the call for evidence today, it appears that the Government will not adopt this recommendation.  Instead, the call for evidence states that:  “Loot boxes will be considered alongside a review of the Gambling Act.”  In other words, the Government will not immediately be making regulations to bring loot boxes within the scope of gambling under the GA 2005.  Accordingly, if loot boxes are brought within the scope of gambling, this will be done as part of the new gambling legislation.

The games industry will be heartened by the much more positive tone of this call for evidence, compared with that of the House of Lords Report.  In particular, the call for evidence acknowledges the steps that the industry has taken to address the concerns around loot boxes.  It quotes the Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, saying:

“Our valued video game industry is making good progress developing safer environments for our children to play in, such as parental controls that can be set to schedule and limit playtime.”

In addition, the call for evidence recognises the wider contribution made by the games industry, both creatively and economically:

“Video games are played by over half of the population and the sector is a key part of the UK’s world-leading creative industries. It contributed £2.6 billion to the economy in 2018, employed 27,000 people in 2019 and has grown more than 16 times faster than the wider UK economy since 2010.”

Given the amount of research that has already been done, and the number of calls for change that have been made, it’s hard to know what more the Government will usefully discover as part of this call for evidence.  Nevertheless, it does provide the games industry with one last chance to make the case for self-regulation, to properly explain the protection already provided by existing regulations and (if there are to be additional regulations) for these only to be more limited and more focussed than the sweeping changes that might have followed if the recommendations in the House of Lords report were to be implemented.

This raises a number of delicate issues and potential traps.  To make the most of this chance, the industry, and the key players within it, will need to frame their responses very carefully.

The call for evidence is open until November 22 2020.