EPIC plan to educate on loot boxes in response to government’s ‘missed opportunity’

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EPIC Risk Management is extremely disappointed to learn that the UK Government has opted against much-needed reforms to loot box access for under 18s, but will use the decision as a catalyst to expand our education delivery within the nation’s schools, shining an even brighter light on the gambling-related threat they pose.

Unlike in other nations, loot boxes remain unregulated in the UK; something that EPIC and other contributors to the government’s call for evidence on loot boxes in video games had wanted to change, with the leading independent gambling harm minimisation consultancy having made an evidence-based case for their sale to under 18s to be banned and for parents and guardians to be given better education regarding the financial harm that the product can cause.

However, in issuing the government’s official response over the weekend, secretary of state for digital, culture media and sport, Nadine Dorries, ruled out both suggestions, stating that “direct government intervention may risk unintended consequences” and that they believe “it would be premature to take legislative action without first pursuing enhanced industry-led measures”, meaning that the onus for positive change has been passed back to the video game developers themselves.

In response to the government’s original ‘call for evidence’, EPIC provided evidence 17 months ago, including first-hand accounts of those harmed by loot boxes. The evidence we provided was not referenced in the report.

We are disappointed that the report does not recommend legislation to govern the sale of loot boxes to minors, as contrary to the government’s stance, we see loot boxes as gambling and as with any other gambling product, the sale of loot boxes to under 18s should not be legal.

With no clear reference into the report as to who should be responsible for proving the vital loot box education for parents and guardians that we have publicly requested, we firmly believe that now is the time for organisations like our own to go even further and expand the reach of our key messaging around the subject.

Jonathan Peniket, EPIC Risk Management’s gaming and eSports consultant, lost £3,000 during his teenage years to ‘Player Packs’ bought via the FIFA football simulation game – one of the many loot box products currently accessible to children. He – like the company – has seen the report as a missed opportunity for positive change, but also another reason for us to take a lead, explaining:

“Whilst I am happy to finally see the much-delayed response finally released by DCMS, I find myself unsurprisingly disappointed with the conclusions made. Overall, this is a huge missed opportunity for strong and meaningful change.

“The emphasis placed on the lack of a ‘causal relationship’ found at this stage between engagement with loot box purchases and problem gambling in general reflects a lack of understanding that loot boxes are directly harmful as a lone entity, regardless of the fairly clear links to future gambling addictions.

“As much as I welcome the idea from the government’s response that loot box purchases should only be possible once unlocked by a parent or guardian as a step in the right direction, I would compare this notion to allowing 12-year-olds into betting shops so long as they obtain parental approval. I would suggest that placing more responsibility on the shoulders of parents here – without working to proactively educate parents on the realities of loot boxes and their potential dangers – symbolises an almost meaningless change.

“EPIC Risk Management work with around 200 high schools and colleges each year to deliver free and independent gambling harm minimisation workshops, so as we deliver our final sessions of the 2021/22 academic year this week, the release of the response going into the summer break provides us with a perfect time to formulate a programme for the new academic year that places an even greater emphasis on the hidden risk of loot boxes within video games.

“It remains by far the most accessible means of gambling for under 18s in our country, so we will do all that we can to ensure that they – and those responsible for their upbringing – are as informed and protected as they can possibly be regarding the ongoing loot box issue.”