In July, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan, and called on her to look deeper into the issue of in-game purchases and take action to safeguard those who are being preyed upon by predatory practices.
I have now received a reply from Rebecca Pow, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, and posted it below:
It was disappointing to read that the Government has no plans to review the rules on loot boxes or other in-game purchases. I fear that this move will leave them in the dark on this issue and it will certainly not tackle the problems that have already been caused by this growing problem in the video game industry.
The Minister mentioned the Gambling Commission publishing a declaration signed by 16 gambling regulators in September last year, which aims to analyse the blurring of lines between video games and gambling, raise awareness about these practices, and encourage dialogue between gambling regulators and game developers. I welcomed this declaration last year, however, I had hoped that by now more action would have been taken.
I then wrote to Ian Rice, the Director General of the Video Standards Council (VSC), and suggested that the inclusion of in-game purchases should impact upon age ratings for games. In my view, the ratings should reflect the visibility of in-game purchases, how much they affect a player’s progress through a game, and the inclusion of any techniques designed to pressure players into buying them. I have now received a reply from Ian Rice which I have posted below:
Mr Rice is somewhat dismissive of the issue in his reply stating that making an in-game purchase is “essentially a private ‘business’ transaction between the game publisher and player”. However, this description would also fit buying games in the first place, so why should one transaction be regulated and another not.
He also wrote that “not all PEGI 3 games are necessarily child-oriented”. To me, it is irrelevant whether or not a game is child-oriented. If a game has a 3 rating then the VSC is saying that this game is suitable for children 3+, and I don’t believe that games containing in-game purchases, backed-up by predatory tactics, are suitable for 3-year-old children, regardless of whether they are child-oriented.
Ian Rice did say that this issue would be examined by the PEGI international Expert Panel (PEGI Experts Group) to see “what, if anything, needs to be done”. I will be interested to hear what the panel has to say on this issue.
On a related note, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has concluded its ‘Immersive and addictive technologies inquiry’ and published its report:
The report did look at the issue of in-game purchases and recommended that paid loot boxes should be regulated under gambling law, with a ban on selling them to children. This chimes with what I have been saying to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan, and Ian Rice.
The report was also highly critical of ‘gambling-like mechanics’ and their contribution towards ‘gambling-like behaviour’, saying:
“We believe that any gambling-related harms associated with gaming should be recognised under the online harms framework. To inform this work, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should immediately establish a scientific working group to collate the latest evidence relating to the effects of gambling-like mechanics in games. The group should produce an evidence-based review of the effects of gambling like game mechanics, including loot boxes and other emerging trends, to provide clarity and advice. This should be done within a timescale that enables it to inform the Government’s forthcoming online harms legislation.”
As you saw in Nicky Morgan’s reply to my letter to her, the Government is sticking its head in the sand on this issue, saying that there is not enough evidence to act whilst simultaneously not reviewing this issue themselves or supporting academic research into this problem.
This is why I am glad that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is calling on the Government to review this policy area. I have added my voice to the calls by submitting a written question to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which goes as follows:
‘To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps she is taking to support research into the effects of gambling-like mechanics in video games on players, especially young and vulnerable players.’
I look forward to reading the Government’s response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report and my written question.
I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and push for action whenever possible.