NHS Calls for Gaming Industry to Ban Loot Boxes to Combat Gambling

NHS mental health director, Claire Murdoch has called on the games industry to ban loot boxes to combat gambling addiction.

Loot boxes are widely disliked as an in-game microtransaction, and over the years have been facing more scrutiny from gamers and even the government. Now, the NHS mental health director has called for video game companies to ban loot boxes to stop gambling in younger players.

Claire Murdoch is the Chief Executive of the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, she is also the national director for mental health, NHS England. On January 18, a post was published to the NHS website in which she warns video game companies that they are “setting kids up for addiction.”

Murdoch explains, “Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.”

Video games such as Star Wars: Battlefront II, or Rocket League had loot boxes in which players could purchase keys to unlock a single box without the knowledge of what was within and then granted a single random item. Rocket League was later updated to allow players to peek inside the crates before unlocking, but it was later completely overhauled with a new Blueprints system.

Meanwhile, games such as Call of Duty and Fortnite don’t use loot crates, and instead, use a more transparent Battle Pass system where players pay for access to a Battle Pass which rewards them with cosmetics for every level up. Those who don’t pay for a Battle Pass can still earn cosmetics at a much slower rate, are given less impressive cosmetics, and are encouraged to purchase one.

The NHS post details that investigations have found children spending money without their parents’ knowledge, with one case seeing £2,000 spent on a basketball game, while another saw £1,000 being spent in a shooting game. In December, the Royal Society of Public Health found that over half of young people believe that video games could lead to gambling.

“As the Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the first NHS clinic to treat gaming addiction, I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals. Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched. We need an evidence-based approach to ensure our young people and gamers in general do not continue to be subjected to new and increasingly harmful  products without our intervention.” — Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder of CNWL’s National Problem Gambling Clinic

The Gambling Commission itself has reported that 55,000 children are classed as having a gambling problem while the NHS estimates that 400,000 people have a serious gambling problem. These statistics have led to the NHS opening a new treatment center, as well as 14 new gambling clinics nationwide. At current, the Gambling Commission does not regulate loot boxes due to a loophole in which there is no official way to monetize what is inside of a loot box.

The study also finds that more than half of parents allow underage children to play games rated 18 without supervision or having knowledge of the game prior.86% believed these games would have no influence on their children, however, 62% of parents tried taking the games back after noticing problems.

Murdoch has called for the following,

  • Ban sales of games with loot boxes that encourage children to gamble
  • Introduce fair and realistic spending limits to prevent people from spending thousands in games
  • Make clear to users what percentage chance they have of obtaining the items they want before they purchase loot boxes
  • Support parents by increasing their awareness on the risks of in-game spending
  • The gaming industry to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms
  • An industry levy to support independent research on long-term effects of gaming
  • Serious concern at the lack of an effective system to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games

The UK’s Children’s Commissioner has previously called for regulation on loot boxes, and a Missouri senator has introduced a new bill to ban loot boxes. In 2018, Ubisoft stated, “If players simply didn’t buy these crates, they would not be added into games in future.” Meanwhile, Belgium has previously taken steps to deem loot boxes illegal.

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Ben Bayliss

Based in the UK and adores venturing through FPS horrors and taking photos in pretty much anything with a functioning photo mode. Also likes car games.

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