The UK Children's Commissioner has recently come out with a new report that calls for the games industry to ban all non-cosmetic in-game purchases.
Along with the ban recommendation the report, Gaming The System, comes a total of fifteen suggestions for government regulations on things like in-game purchases and loot boxes. The recommendations have an overall emphasis on the "financial harms" that games can lead to and how certain game elements are in need of regulations in order to mitigate those harms. The report also notes that some of the regulations would require the games industry to "provide a certain level of protection for child players. This could be achieved by affording the same high level of protection to all players, or by requiring games companies and platforms to develop and use robust forms of age verification and to take a special approach to child players."
The report does note that some companies such as Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have recently stated that they will disclose the odds for in-game purchases such as loot boxes and other gacha style items, but makes clear that those actions do not go far enough. One of the recommendations specifically mentions that children should be able to progress through a game without spending additional money and that spending needs to be limited to things that do not affect performance (in other words: no pay to win).
The biggest policy recommendation is of course calling on the government to update the legal definition of gambling, specifically the UK's Gambling Act, to account for these new forms found in games. The report even mentions Belgium and Netherlands as examples of countries that have determined that loot boxes violate their own gambling laws. Most of the opposition to labeling loot boxes as gambling comes in the form of the arguement that the contents cannot officially exchanged for cash, but that completely ignores that illegal third party sites enable that exchange as well as being naive (or dishonest) about the value children place on getting certain items from loot boxes and other in-game purchases.
Another part of the report is an attached article in which the organization interviewed 29 children ages 10 to 16 about how they feel about gaming. In the article players said they themselves feel like loot box mechanics are akin to gambling, such as Tim age 16 who said "It’s like gambling- you could lose your money and not get anyone good, or get someone really good." Another child, Nina age 10, expressed feeling pressured even to get cosmetic in-game items when she layed down the truth saying "If you're a default skin, people think you're trash." It should be noted that report does also urge parents to talk to their kids about in-game purchases and loot boxes, as well as to make sure they monitor their childrens gaming activity.
Whether the government will take these recommendations and actually create regulations from them is up to them and voters when elections come up. At the very least parents should try to get educated about what their kids are being exposed to and how video games work so that they can talk to them about how to protect themselves from predatory practices.
What do you think of the recommendations given by the report? What other recommendations not mentioned in it would you like to see for in-game purchases and loot boxes?