The Government is to launch a new consultation into video game loot boxes and whether they are linked to gambling-like behaviours.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the new call for evidence would help with its plans to review the UK’s gambling laws.
Loot boxes are collections of items inside video games which can be purchased with real money or earned through playing time, often consisting of power-ups or cosmetic items, however, players do not know the contents of a loot box until it is bought and open.
A number of child welfare organisations, charities and other groups have warned that the practice exposes children to gambling habits and can set them up for addiction in later life.
Last year, a parliamentary report called for loot boxes to be regulated under gambling laws, a ban on loot boxes being sold to children, and an industry levy to fund independent research on the long-term effects of gaming.
In response, the Government has said it will examine the links between loot boxes and gambling-like behaviours and excessive spending in video games.
It said it will also carry out further research in the area of video games, investigating their impact on player behaviour.
Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage said: “During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen more people than ever before turn to video games and immersive technology to keep them entertained and to stay in touch with friends and family.
“These innovations can present challenges though as well as opportunities, which is why we are taking the necessary steps to protect users and promote the safe enjoyment of this dynamic industry.”
However, chairman of the DCMS Select Committee, Julian Knight, who was part of the committee which published the report on loot boxes last year, warned that the new call for evidence was only delaying much-needed updates to legislation.
“As a member of the predecessor committee we gave the government the evidence to act back in September with a clear recommendation that loot boxes should be regulated as games of chance under Section 6 of the Gambling Act and banned from sale to children. Nine months on many more families will have seen their children exposed to harm while gaming companies have continued to profit,” he said.
“We’re pleased the Government has listened to the committee’s calls for action over loot boxes however a consultation with new evidence means further delay. We need a clear timetable for when gambling laws will be updated.”
However, Mr Knight said he was pleased to see the Government announced its support for other recommendations from the report, including changes to age verification for games.
“Robust age verification of games is another key part of preventing harm. We are pleased the Government agrees that the online distribution of games should be subject to the same age ratings as physical distribution, and is willing to legislate if necessary,” he said.
“It will be key that any such measures are enforceable – another reason for the Government to introduce its online harms framework without delay.
“We also called on ministers to promote a better understanding of the related harms and long-term effects of gaming, and are pleased the Government has outlined plans for how it intends to do so.”