A UK-based video gaming trade association has published a new set of 11 principles designed to improve player protections around loot boxes.

UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) – which represents 700 members across the video gaming and interactive entertainment industries – has published the new guidance as recommended by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Technical Working Group.

Loot boxes are featured in video games. They allow players to purchase randomly selected virtual items with real money.

Given their random nature and potential for harm, they have often been compared to online gambling, with many calling for regulation to be introduced around loot boxes in order to protect children and young people.

The principles

The 11 new industry principles are intended to do just that, as they set out guidance for game publishers to reduce the potential harm of loot boxes. The full list of principles follows below.

  1. Make available technical controls to restrict under-18s from acquiring loot boxes without the consent or knowledge of a guardian.
  1. Drive awareness and uptake of technological controls with all players and guardians through regular communications. This principal will be followed up with a £1m targeted public information campaign starring broadcaster Judi Love, beginning in July.
  1. Form an expert panel on age assurance in the games industry. This group will meet regularly to develop and share best practices, stay up-to-date with technological developments and explore opportunities to develop improved systems.
  1. Disclose the presence of loot boxes in games prior to purchase and download.
  1. Give clear probability disclosures to ensure players can easily access clear information on the chance of receiving a given virtual item before purchasing a loot box.
  1. Design and present loot boxes in a way that is easily understandable and which promotes fair and responsible play.
  1. Support the implementation of a Video Games Research Framework, facilitating the creation of better quality research into video gaming.
  1. Continue to tackle the unauthorised external sale of items acquired from loot boxes for real money.
  1. Commit to lenient refund policies on loot boxes where spending has occurred without a parent or guardian’s consent or knowledge.
  1. Advance protections for all players by engaging with third-party organisations, players, parents and academia.
  1. Work with the UK government and other relevant stakeholders to measure the effectiveness of the above principles over an implementation period of 12 months.

Ukie and government commentary

“We’ve been clear the video games industry needs to do more to protect children and adults from the harms associated with loot boxes, said UK Minister for the Creative Industries John Whittingdale.

“These new principles are a big step forward to make sure players can enjoy video games responsibly and safely. I look forward to seeing games companies put the plans into action and will be watching their progress closely.” 

Ukie co-CEO Daniel Wood added: “Publishing these shared principles for how the industry approaches loot boxes is a UK first and provides us with a clear direction moving forwards. 

“The principles will improve protections for all players and underlines the industry’s commitment to safe and responsible play. We look forward to working collaboratively across industry and with others to implement them over the coming months.”  

Impact of loot boxes

A BBC News article has set out the damaging impact loot boxes can have on their users.

It told the story of Dave Sproson, a man who ended up in financial difficulty after developing an addiction to buying loot boxes.

“I started to realise that it was getting out of control when I could no longer sustain buying loot boxes with my income,” Sporson said.

“I had to resort to using credit cards, which I’d never had before. I used payday loans. Over a period of 12 months, I had 28 from various different lenders.”

Stories such as these have helped to inspire regulatory action on loot boxes across several key European jurisdictions including Belgium, where loot boxes were declared illegal in 2018, and the Netherlands, where the government continues to look into regulation of the game mechanic.