TIGA, the trade association representing the UK video games industry, has commented on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee’s report on immersive and addictive technologies.
In December 2018, the DCMS Committee launched an inquiry into the growth of ‘immersive and addictive technologies’. The inquiry examined the addictive nature of emerging technologies and operating business models that maximise player engagement; how games companies operate across a range of different social media platforms; and the use of vast amounts of user-generated data. The inquiry also examined the development of technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and the potential impact that these could have in the worlds of sport, entertainment and news.
The Committee has today published its report that includes the following recommendations:
- The Government should bring forward regulations under section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 in the next parliamentary session to specify that loot boxes are a game of chance. If it determines not to regulate loot boxes under the Act at this time, the Government should produce a paper clearly stating the reasons why it does not consider loot boxes paid for with real-world currency to be a game of chance played for money’s worth.
- The Government should advise PEGI to apply the existing ‘gambling’ content labelling, and corresponding age limits, to games containing loot boxes that can be purchased for real world money and do not reveal their contents before purchase. In the absence of research which proves that no harm is being done by exposing children to gambling through the purchasing of loot boxes, the Committee believe a precautionary principle should apply and they are not permitted in games played by children until the evidence proves otherwise.
- The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should immediately update its areas of research interest to include gaming disorder, working with researchers to identify the key questions that need to be addressed and develop a strategy to support high-quality, independent research into the long-term effects of gaming.
- The Government should require games companies to share aggregated player data with researchers and to contribute financially to independent research through a levy administered by an impartial body.
- 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.
- To provide clarity for policy-makers and the public, the Government should outline in its response to this report how it intends to support independent research into the application, extent and effect of design mechanics used in digital technologies to extend user engagement. Such research should then inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around “designed addiction” and “excessive screen time
- The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should lay out within the next six months how a similar framework to the duty of care practices enshrined and enforced by the governing bodies of other sports can best be applied within esports.
- The Video Recordings Act should be amended to ensure that online games are covered by the same enforceable age restrictions as games sold on disks.
In response to the report, Dr Richard Wilson OBE, CEO of TIGA said:
“TIGA agrees that the Government should urgently carry out research to examine the connection between loot boxes and gambling. This research would recognise that loot boxes take many different forms.
“TIGA reccomends that platform owners and those operating an online game should: disclose the use of paid or hard currency loot boxes (or other paid or hard currency chance systems such as roulette wheels) up front; describe their potential contents; and, clearly lay out the chance of items being included.
“The current PEGI descriptor for in-game purchases does not specifically differentiate between loot boxes and other items. TIGA encourages PEGI to consider should consider explicitly identifying the existence of loot boxes in games by means of one of their descriptors/icons. This would have the advantage of providing consumers with more relevant information so that they can make informed decisions when they access, download or purchase a game.
“TIGA research indicates that most UK game developers do not employ loot boxes. Of a sample of 150 games released in 2018, 89 per cent did not use loot boxes.
“TIGA has previously expressed support for the Government’s plan in the Online Harms White Paper to introduce a new statutory ‘Duty of Care’, ensuring companies take greater responsibility over the safety of their users.
“TIGA agrees with the Committee that research into gaming disorder is scarce and more, high-quality studies are required to fully understand the condition. We also agree that the Government should commission further research into gaming disorder and to ascertain appropriate time limits for playing games. At present, this is unclear. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health suggests that it is ‘impossible’ to recommend age appropriate time limits, instead urging parents to ‘approach screen time based on the child’s development age [and] individual need.’
“To ensure impartiality of research, any studies into gaming disorder should be funded by government and not industry.
Commenting on the report, Jason Kingsley OBE, TIGA Chairman and CEO and Creative Director at Rebellion, said:
“TIGA and our members would like to be able to refer players, parents and guardians to authoritative, independent research and advice concerning appropriate screen time for players. We encourage all members to cooperate with researchers and share data, we also encourage games businesses to consider design features which address the issue of gaming disorder. In our best practice guide, entitled Safeguarding Players, we suggest that games businesses could explore the use of the game mechanics that manage screen time, such as using reminder messages and narrative messages in which characters in the game advise you to take breaks.”
TIGA is keen to work alongside relevant parties to find solutions for UK game developers, publishers and platform owners and operators to address the concerns raised in this report, and ensure that players of all ages can enjoy games in a responsible and safe way.