UK game industry trade body, Ukie, has published a new set of guidelines it hopes will influence how loot boxes are implemented in the UK.
The guidelines comprise 11 principles that were agreed upon by a Technical Working Group convened by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which featured representatives from across the industry.
"Loot boxes are a feature in some video games which players can purchase with real money, or acquire with virtual currency, to receive random items. In the government’s response to the call for evidence, it called for improved protections for children, young people and adults following concerns raised about loot boxes," said Ukie in a blog post.
"It set out its view that the purchase of Loot Boxes should be unavailable to children unless enabled by a parent or guardian, and that all players should have access to spending controls and transparent information to support safe gameplay. The 11 new Industry Principles on Loot Boxes are designed to meet these two key objectives detailed in the Government response."
The government won't legislate loot boxes, but wants devs to protect young players
The principles themselves suggest companies using loot boxes prioritize the usage of "technological controls" to effectively restrict anybody under the age of 18 from acquiring a loot box without consent from a parent of guardian, and also disclose the presence of loot boxes in a game prior to purchase or download.
They also advocate for the inclusion of "clear probability disclosures" that clearly communicate the odds of receiving virtual items to players, and the implementation of "lenient refund policies" on directly purchased loot boxes or in-game currency.
Beyond that, the Technical Working Group wants to see "advanced protections" put in place to help players engage with loot boxes in a responsible manner. Devs are also advised to "tackle the unauthorized external sale of items acquired from loot boxes for real money" and support the implementation of the Video Games Research Framework to "facilitate the creation of better quality, data driven research into video games that adheres to the principles of open science while respecting data privacy and confidentiality.
The complete set of principles can be read over on the Ukie website, but the bottom line here is that there's a clear push in the UK for more self-regulation as far as loot boxes are concerned.
Indeed, the guidelines have been released a year after the UK government said it wouldn't be regulating the controversial monetization mechanic despite claiming that children and young people shouldn't be allowed to purchase loot boxes without parental consent. Laying out its response to a call for evidence on loot boxes in July 2022, the DCMS found an "association between loot boxes and harms" but couldn't determine whether it was causative.
As a result, the government said it wouldn't be taking legislative action but implored studios and publishers within the game industry to rise to the challenge of loot box regulation by implementing protections themselves.
"Publishing these shared Principles for how the industry approaches loot boxes is a UK first and provides us with a clear direction moving forwards," said Ukie co-CEO Daniel Wood. "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."