June 15, 2024

Loot Boxes Shouldn’t Be Sold to Minors, Refunds Must Be Allowed, UK Publishers Say

The United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment Association (or UKIE for short) has published a new list of guidelines for loot boxes in video games on the UK government website. Although they are not legally binding, breaching the guidelines could lead to government pushback. In particular, the guidelines urge developers to restrict the purchase of loot boxes to people under the age of 18, to make refunds softer, and to disclose conflicts before purchase.

“We are pleased that some platforms already require parental authorization to engage under 18s within games,” said a government consultation blog post (through GamesIndustry.biz). “As part of achieving this objective, game companies and platforms should take steps to strengthen and reduce reliance on self-verification.”

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UKIE said research found “a correlation between loot box spending and problem gambling” across 15 studies, four of which sampled those aged 12 to 24. With arguments that loot boxes are like gambling and evidence that they can lead to gambling habits. UKIE encourages developers to “restrict anyone under the age of 18 from accessing a loot box, without the consent or knowledge of a parent, carer or guardian”.

In the case of minors buying loot boxes without parental consent, and potentially using their credit/debit cards without permission – something we often see in the news – the UKIE says developers should “commit to refund policies merciful […] with clearly displayed contact channels for customer services.” This isn’t just a problem with loot boxes, but with in-game microtransactions as a whole. Two years ago, a child bought 50,000 V-Bucks with her mother’s credit card , and as recently as May, the BBC reported that a ten-year-old girl spent £2,500 on Roblox without her mother realizing.

The guidelines also ask developers to “give clear probability disclosure”, meaning that loot boxes should list the probability of finding each item and the probability of getting something from each set. For example, if you were to open a case in CS:GO, under UKIE regulations — again not legally binding — valve would be expected to list the likelihood of getting a knife or other high value skin. This would show how likely you are to find those items despite the number of crates you might buy.

Speaking of CS:GO, a problem with loot boxes and rare items is the sale of those items through third party sites. Knives obtained from cases are often sold for real money, leading to the development of notorious video gambling sites. The UKIE stressed that developers should “continue to combat the unauthorized external sale of items obtained from loot boxes for real money and continue to invest in IP protection to combat such sales .”

UKIE’s 11 points for loot boxes went live today, so we’ll have to wait and see if it has any meaningful impact going forward.

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