It’s the news we were expecting but not keen on. There is evidence that loot boxes in computer games have a correlation with problem gambling.
🚨 Klaxon: Correlation is not causation.
Let’s not be defensive about it, though, and, as gamers, why should we? We have seen good loot boxes and some terribly exploitative loot box fed games.
A report was commissioned by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Yes, that’s currently helmed by Nadine “ban the algorithm” Dorries, but the work was done by Dundee-based InGAME (Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise) centre. The centre collaborates with Universities and is far more sensible.
You can read the full report online (PDF link), and it makes some recommendations. Those recommendations are;
- A minimum age informed by science, government and industry should be established for engaging in games involving loot boxes.
- Games involving loot boxes should clearly and unambiguously inform players that loot boxes involving microtransactions are included in the game but are NOT an essential requirement for playing these games. Players may decline to use them without penalty.
- It should be made clear at the point of purchase that loot box items do not guarantee a direct path to success in a game.
- It should also be made clear the extent to which the delivery of loot box items is random in nature, and that loot boxes are prominently labelled with content ranges and % chances clearly displayed.
- Loot box contents, or chances are not pre-determined or targeted based on player behaviour.
- After a set number of purchases (e.g. after every fourth), players are informed via an on-screen message that this is their fourth, eighth, etc. purchase and that they should pause to consider how much they have spent at that point and if they wish to continue.
- Players are informed via an on-screen message when sudden spikes in spending activity occur, encouraging them to pause to consider if they wish to continue.
- Players should be advised to take regular breaks and that this message appears on screen after each hour (or appropriate session length) of play.
- Developers and publishers should operate generous refund policies (e.g. all spend for the last X days), and players have a clear path to obtain this and to self-exclude.
- Developers should allow access to a tally of recent spend in the user’s profile to allow players to make more informed decisions about their spending.
- Players should be able to view estimated average spend amounts to level up or max out a character (or similar upgradable item), in order to make better value judgements and manage expectations.
- Games companies should ensure that their likely first point of contact with players experiencing distress due to loot boxes or other spends are appropriately trained to offer support and informed as to possible methods for redress/refund. As the precise division of roles varies between studios, key personnel should be identified who can lead on this.
Abertay University academic Dr Darshana Jayemanne who led the evidence assessment for InGAME told the press;
We are at the beginning of learning about potential harms and how they relate to particular implementations of loot boxes and although it is clear there are some correlations with problem gambling, more work is required to better understand these links. At this stage it is important to take a cautious approach to regulation of loot boxes, however it also does not mean that nothing can or should be done. We advocate an expanded approach to loot boxes that incorporates consumer protection frameworks. This would afford a range of tools, from recommendations or guidelines to binding statutes, that gives latitude for action. It will also help to ensure a measured approach to game developers of different sizes who make different kinds of games, different populations of players with different risks, and address potential concerns and risks that the narrow focus on gambling has perhaps sidelined, such as data protection. In our expert interviews, seasoned game developers suggested that such an approach would be valuable, helping them to create better online communities, manage risk, and work towards new designs.”
Picture credit: Axville.
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