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Loot box decision is a step in the right direction – but we should go further

EPIC Risk Management’s head of safer gambling, Dave Sproson, has been the subject of a BBC interview this week, with his lived experience forming part of a feature helping to explain why UKIE is taking steps to self-regulate loot boxes within the UK games industry.

I was recently interviewed by Steffan Powell, the gaming correspondent for the BBC, to discuss my experience with loot boxes and my feeling towards them, having lived experience of the financial and emotional harm that they can cause.

The feature has now been published to coincide with the news that the UK games industry is self-regulating to include 11 new guidelines that they hope will “improve protections for all players”. These include new technological controls that will prevent under 18s from accessing loot boxes without a parent or guardian’s consent and the introduction of a public awareness campaign to explain why these controls are being administered.

At EPIC Risk Management, we have long been calling for a complete restriction on any access to loot boxes for under 18s, as their mechanisms are an obvious gateway to gambling. Alongside this, we have also highlighted the need to raise awareness among parents and guardians as to what loot boxes are, and what they could mean for their children or their family as a whole in some of the more extreme cases of out-of-control spending or time-based addiction that we have encountered.

Many who are new to the discussion will understandably question why we see this as an issue.

The majority of parents with children who enjoy gaming will most likely be aware of – if not entirely familiar with – loot boxes. However, for those who aren’t familiar with them, or with video games in general, the idea behind loot boxes is that they are there to be an addition to supplement regular gameplay.

At first glance, loot boxes are seen as a fun addition to a game; they mostly contain cosmetic items such as costumes and appearance modifications for your character. Generally, you can ‘earn’ them for free by playing the game for periods of time and accumulating an in-game currency to spend on the boxes. This differs game by game, but most allow this sort of mechanic.

The harm starts to occur when you can’t acquire the boxes at a fast enough rate and so many justify spending money by saying it’s saving you the time you can spend with family or friends, rather than spending even longer playing the game.

For under 18s, there’s also the huge social pressure; other children in their friendship groups have ‘legendary’ characters or the rarest of ‘skins’ in a game and brag to their friends that they have them.

To try and combat this, today the UK Games industry has released plans to try and limit the access to loot boxes to children. As referenced at the outset, UKIE has detailed 11 new guidelines that they believe highlight the industry’s “commitment to safe and responsible play”.

The guidelines, which you can see in full in the link below, are a huge step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go and generally, my opinion – and that of EPIC Risk Management – is that it should be a legal requirement for loot boxes to only be sold to people over the age of 18. This is something that has been under discussion over the last 12 months in the UK and we hope it is a policy that will be put into place in the future.

Though we feel that there is still more that can be done to protect children from the risk that loot boxes pose, it is refreshing to finally see some movement in an area that is only growing in size year by year. It is currently estimated that by 2025, loot box sales globally will be at around US $20.2 billion.

Some video game companies release their games for free, knowing children will then spend large sums of money on them, and under 18s make up a huge portion of the above amount spent.

The most important takeaway from this latest development is that it only highlights the need for education across the board. The education sessions that our teams present in schools are absolutely critical to our aim of prevention, but more than that, we need to raise further awareness among parents and the games industry themselves.

My story, which you can read here after recounting it to the BBC, is just one of countless cases every year where loot boxes, if they become an addictive pastime, can become harmful to individuals and their families. We owe it to the next generation to protect them from the harmful elements of game play and educate adult gamers on the potential risks, so that they can make their own informed decision on their relationship with the loot box element of their favourite games.

Dave Sproson

Head of Safer Gambling

NB: This article has been amended since its launch in order to remove references to policy around loot boxes in other countries that is currently under review or not being applied as intended.

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