Call to regulate video game loot boxes under gambling law and ban their sale to children among measures needed to protect players, say MPs. Lack of honesty and transparency reported among representatives of some games and social media companies in giving
The wide-ranging report calls upon games companies to accept responsibility for addictive gaming disorders, protect their players from potential harms due to excessive play-time and spending, and along with social media
companies introduce more effective age verification tools for users.
The immersive and addictive technologies inquiry investigated how games companies operate across a range of social media platforms and other technologies,
generating vast amounts of user data and operating business models that maximise player engagement in a lucrative and growing global industry.
Sale of loot boxes to children should be banned Government should regulate loot boxes
under the Gambling Act Games industry must face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms Industry levy to support independent research on long-term effects of gaming Serious concern at lack of effective system to keep children off
age-restricted platforms and games
MPs on the Committee have previously called for a new Online Harms regulator to hold social media platforms accountable for content or activity that harms individual users. They say the new
regulator should also be empowered to gather data and take action regarding addictive games design from companies and behaviour from consumers. E-sports, competitive games played to an online audience, should adopt and enforce the same duty of care
practices enshrined in physical sports. Finally, the MPs say social media platforms must have clear procedures to take down misleading deep-fake videos 203 an obligation they want to be enforced by a new Online Harms regulator.
a first for Parliament, representatives of major games including Fortnite maker Epic Games and social media platforms Snapchat and Instagram gave evidence on the design of their games and platforms.
DCMS Committee Chair Damian
Collins MP said:
Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people's attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it's time for
them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users.
Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while
exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.
Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products.
Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It's time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to
proactively identify vulnerable gamers.
Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on
self-certification from children and adults.
Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage
their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Regulate 'loot boxes' under the Gambling Act:
mechanics were found to be integral to major games companies' revenues, with further evidence that they facilitated profits from problem gamblers. The Report found current gambling legislation that excludes loot boxes because they do not meet the
regulatory definition failed to adequately reflect people's real-world experiences of spending in games. Loot boxes that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance should be considered games of chance played for
money's worth and regulated by the Gambling Act.
Evidence from gamers highlighted the loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts's FIFA series with one gamer disclosing spending of up to £1000 a year.
calls for loot boxes that contain the element of chance not to be sold to children playing games and instead be earned through in-game credits. In the absence of research on potential harms caused by exposing children to gambling, it calls for the
precautionary principle to apply. In addition, better labelling should ensure that games containing loot boxes carry parental advisories or descriptors outlining that they feature gambling content.
The Government should bring forward regulations under section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 in the next parliamentary session to specify that loot boxes are a game of chance. If it determines not to regulate loot boxes under the Act
at this time, the Government should produce a paper clearly stating the reasons why it does not consider loot boxes paid for with real-world currency to be a game of chance played for money's worth.
UK Government should
advise PEGI to apply the existing 'gambling' content labelling, and corresponding age limits, to games containing loot boxes that can be purchased for real-world money and do not reveal their contents before purchase.
Safeguarding younger players:
With three-quarters of those aged 5 to 15 playing online games, MPs express serious concern at the lack of an effective system to keep children off age-restricted platforms
and games. Evidence received highlighted challenges with age verification and suggested that some companies are not enforcing age restrictions effectively.
Legislation may be needed to protect children from playing games that are
not appropriate for their age. The Report identifies inconsistencies in age-ratings stemming from the games industry's self-regulation around the distribution of games. For example, online games are not subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system
and voluntary ratings are used instead. Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: all companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold
the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings.
Loot boxes in video games have come under fire as method of monetising games. Complainers have attacked them as if they were casino gambling, surely an unjust accusation but nevertheless loot boxes can be a rather ruthless way to extract money.
the films censors of New Zealand's OFLC are reporting on an evolution towards fairer monetisation methods. The OFLC speaks about developments in a blog post:
You don't know what you are paying for and if you don't get the
item you want then you can end of buying a bunch of them.
People have been getting pretty annoyed about this for a while and pressure built up . In early August, a group of companies that make game consoles announced a policy
where they will only allow games that show players their chances of getting items from loot boxes . This chance is commonly called a drop rate by those who talk about video games, as it is the rate at which items will drop. The announcement means that,
all things going to plan, games that are published on the PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch will show drop rates from 2020 onwards.
Since the announcement last week, a few game developers have begun removing loot boxes from their
games entirely . Their solution is to replace loot boxes with boxes where players can see what is in them. Last week, popular game Apex Legends removed loot boxes less than a week after adding them in.
Players generally view the
policy announcement as a positive step forward, although some commentators have pointed out that showing the drop rate doesn't change the dodgy nature of loot boxes, as they are still based entirely on random chance.
appears to be based off regulations that were in place in China until recently, which also required games to show drop rates. Since then, Chinese regulations have intensified, placing limits on how many loot boxes players can open in a day and making
games increase the drop rate with each box opened. These regulations have proven effective in giving developers pause. Insiders now recommend moving away from loot box mechanics altogether in the Chinese market .
The fact that
China felt the need to strengthen its regulations lends credence to the fact that simply showing players drop rates may not fully manage concerns around loot boxes.
More troubling is the revelation that game publishers previously
offered to increase drop rates for people whom they paid to open loot boxes on video. By changing the drop rates, viewers are given an inflated idea of what they are likely to get from loot boxes. This suggestion of false advertising taps into why a lot
of players dislike loot boxes and think that they are exploitative and anti-consumer.
These changes show that the industry is starting to solidify a focused strategy in order to deal with the potential harms from loot boxes. The
space remains fast-moving. I will do my best to keep on top of it and let you know about more developments as they arise.
The basketball game NBA 2K20 has made the news as the European games rating group PEGI and the US equivalent, ESRB, have been considering how to rate content depicting gambling.
Neither of the two rating organisations flagged NBA 2K20 for
gambling, simulated or otherwise. PEGI explained its reasoning saying that the gambling content descriptor doesn't apply because the mini-games involved in NBA 2K's MyTeam mode don't actually encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are
played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling.
The reply from PEGI acknowledges that the agency had seen the announcement trailer of NBA 2K20 and noticed the controversy it has caused. However, the board's representative noted that the
controversial imagery played a central role in the trailer, but it may not necessarily do so in the game, which has not yet been released.
PEGI notes that this isn't gambling, per se, in that nothing is really wagered in the slot machine, wheel of
fortune and pachinko mini-games, and whatever is won has value only as game content. Wheel/slot spins and ball drops are earned through gameplay and can't be bought, so nothing is really wagered.
For the ESRB, these mini-games aren't even
simulated gambling. In its rating summary for NBA 2K20 , the game's only content descriptor is mild language, as apparently the words hell and damn are in some dialogue.
PEGI says that the controversy over the game's trailer is part of an internal
discussion that PEGI is having for the moment:
The games industry is evolving constantly (and rapidly in recent years). As a rating organization, we need to ensure that these developments are reflected in our classification criteria.
We do not base our decisions on the content of a single trailer, but we will properly assess how the rating system (and the video games industry in general) should address these concerns.
Interestingly enough, the trailer posted by 2K
Games' United Kingdom YouTube account has since been taken down . It's still live on the main NBA 2K YouTube channel.
NBA 2K20 launches Friday, Sept. 6 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
DayZ is a 2018 Czech first person shooter by Bohemia Interactive
The video game DayZ has been banned by the Australian Censorship Board, despite having been previously granted an MA15+ rating under an alternative rating system.
DayZ has been available online via Steam since December of last year. As an online title it was rated MA 15+ for strong violence, online interactivity under the International Age Rating Coalition system. This is an automatic rating assignment
software programme providing ratings based on forms filled in by the games company.
More recently the game was submitted for PS4 retail release by distributor Five Star Games. This time around it was assessed by human censors and was promptly
gamesindustry.biz plausibly suggests that the ban is probably due to
the game mechanism of using morphine to restore health. The Australian censors have strict rules prohibiting anything positive about drugs.
The game remains available online to Australian players via the Steam games distribution platform.
Classification Board first granted an RC rating to DayZ on June 4, following an application from local distributors Five Star Games to have the game sold in brick-and-mortar stores across the country. According to the report, which was supplied to Kotaku
Australia on Friday afternoon, the game was banned over illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards.
Through general gameplay, the player is able to collect and use a variety of equipment, supplies and weaponry, the report
says. One of the options to restore the player's health is a marijuana joint, labelled 'cannabis', which is denoted by a cannabis bud in the player's inventory.
Kotaku Australia also reveals that the Classification Board is also working to have
the game pulled from sale digitally in Australia.
Update: An Australian cut version will be distributed worldwide
Bohemia Interactive confirmed to Kotaku Australia that DayZ would be getting modified globally to comply with the Classification Board's requirements. Bohemia could have opted to exclude Australians from DayZ s next major release to give themselves time
to work out another solution, but in an email the studio explained that they did not want Aussie gamers to be separated from the rest of the world. Bohemia Interactive said:
At the moment, we are editing the global
version of DayZ so it will fit into the Board's requirements. The key objective is to keep the gameplay as authentic as it was, so players are not affected by this change.
Dayz is a survival computer game set in the fictional post-Soviet Republic of Chernarus, where a mysterious plague has turned most of the population into zombies. The game is set in 1st and 3rd person where, as a survivor, the player must scavenge
the land for food, water, weapons and medicine while killing or avoiding the "infected".
Dayz was initially put through the IARC (International Age Rating Coalition) Tool (the IARC Tool). A computer game developer
answers an online questionnaire and the IARC Tool generates a rating and consumer advice which is consistent with current Australian classification guidelines. Based on the information provided by Bohemia Interactive in relation to drug use when
completing the IARC questionnaire, the IARC Tool generated an MA 15+ classification with consumer advice of 'Strong violence, online interactivity' for the digital version of Dayz . The IARC Tool produces classifications for digitally delivered games for
When Five Star Games Pty Ltd applied to the Classification Board for a classification for an upcoming PlayStation 4 release of the game in Australia, they advised that drug use in the game included cannabis. The aim of
Dayz is to stay alive and healthy during the conditions of the outbreak and the player's health is measured by vital statistics. Throughout general gameplay, the player is able to collect and use a variety of equipment, supplies and weaponry, with one
option to restore the player's health being a marijuana joint, labelled "cannabis," which is denoted by a cannabis bud in the player's inventory. The player is able to select and use it when their vital statistics are low. When the player
smokes the cannabis, their vital statistics of food and water increase and their temperature decreases. Therefore, in the opinion of the Classification Board, cannabis use during the game acts as an incentive or reward to boost overall health and
survivability. The Board noted that there was no instance of intoxication resulting from this drug use depicted within the game.
The Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 (the Games Guidelines) state
interactive illicit or proscribed drug use is not permitted within the G, PG, M or MA 15+ classification. The Guidelines further state, drug use is permitted within the R 18+ classification, provided any interactive illicit or proscribed drug use is not
detailed or realistic. Pursuant to the Games Guidelines, drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted at any classification level.
Accordingly, on 4 June 2019, the Classification Board had to classify the computer
game, Dayz , RC (Refused Classification) . The RC category is commonly referred to as being 'banned'. This means that the game cannot be sold, hired, advertised, or legally imported into Australia. The IARC Tool classification has been updated to
RC (Refused Classification).
The Board noted that if the use of cannabis within the context of this game did not act as an incentive or reward, its impact could have been accommodated within the R 18+ classification.
Further, if this instance of drug use was absent from the game, then Dayz would be able to be accommodated within the MA 15+ classification.
Australia's censors also announce a review of the censorship rules
On 28 June 2019, the Council of Attorneys-General agreed that the Australian Government will coordinate a public consultation process on reviewing the Games Guidelines to ensure they reflect contemporary Australian community
values. The review will be undertaken by the Department of Communications and the Arts.
Perhaps the censors can now quietly ditch their silly and embarrassing rules about drug use in games. The clause was only introduced as a political compromise
when the R18 was being introduced for games. They were trying to say to reluctant politicians something along the lines of: Don't worry about allowing R18, we'll still have tough censorship rules for such games.
Update: Australia's the laughing stock of the world
Australia's decision to ban the popular zombie video game DayZ because of in-game drug use has been criticised in the Victorian state parliament.
Liberal Democrat MP Tim Quilty said:
The ban was absurd and has
made Australia look like the wet blanket and laughing stock of the whole world.
Refusal of classification should be reserved for illegal materials, things like child pornography and snuff films that should never have been created
in the first place. It should not be used for zombie survival video games.
While DayZ is still available for purchase on Steam in other territories that option isn't no
longer available to Australians, unless you use a VPN. This does not affect anyone who has already bought the game, and they will continue to be able to play the game.
Last week, Australia's Censorship Board was in the news for banning a game that it had just passed MA15+. The sorry story played out as follows:
DayZ has been available online via Steam since December of last year. As an online title it
was rated MA 15+ for strong violence, online interactivity under the International Age Rating Coalition system. This is an automatic rating assignment software programme providing ratings based on forms filled in by the games company.
recently the game was submitted for PS4 retail release by distributor Five Star Games. This time around it was assessed by human censors and was promptly banned.
Well the random Australian ratings have ht the news again, this time for
the dystopian game, We Happy Few. This was famously banned by Australia's human censors and was the passed R18+ by the appeal board. Well recent resubmissions have resulted in both MA15+ ratings and another ban.
Kotaku reports that the
recent submissions may be to do with a new downloaded content update called Lightbearer . But even if this is the case the Australian ratings database doesn't do much to make it clear which versions are banned, R18, or MA15.
Update: Australian censors sweep their rubbish ratings under the carpet
The Australian Censorship Board has been cleaning up its rubbish ratings. It has replaced the seemingly random recent ratings of MA15+ and RC (Banned) with the R18+ rating that has been used for all retail release for some time.
The board has
also deleted an entry from May 2018 noting that the game was previously temporarily by the censors in May 2018. This decision was eventually overruled by the Review Board with an R18+ rating that was used for all retail release.
So now website
viewers are now presented with a consistent set of R18+ ratings as if the rubbish ratings had never happened.
ign.com also note that a rubbish ratings have also been cleared out for the game Kingdom Come:
Deliverance which was also banned by the malfunctioning robot rating computer.
Omega Labyrinth Life is another in the series of Japanese video games that feature sexy young girls of rather indeterminate age. It made the news as it was something of a first for featuring an English language soundtrack.
It inevitably courted
a little controversy but it shrugged it off and will now release in the US and EU on the same day as Japan and Asia - August 1st.
The Western versions will be digital only and the Sony PS4 release will be the censored version whilst Nintendo
Switch has the original uncut version.
D3 Publisher released the full
uncensored version of Omega Labyrinth Life on the Nintendo Switch , while the PS4 version received a truncated, censored version called Labyrinth Life . The Switch version managed to sell more than three times what the PS4 version sold, and almost
quadrupling the sales during the first week of release.
The censored PS4 version, Labyrinth Life , fared far worse despite being $10 cheaper than the Nintendo Switch version of the game. It landed on the 26th spot out of 30
entries, and only moved 1,977 units over a four day period.
Grand Theft Auto Online's newest scenario is the Diamond Casino and Resort in Los Santos. And of course the games features a rather one-sided form of gambling where only the house can win.
Players can buy game money which can be used to gamble at the
tables of the Diamond Casino. There's no mechanism to cash in any winnings for real money, but presumably it can be used elsewhere in the game. But just like the real world, players can certainly lose and may be tempted to spend more real money in a
forlorn hope of winning their losses back.
Given that loot boxes are causing so much controversy around the world, then this latest venture is surely asking for trouble. Forbes comments:
And in the sense that
gambling is the sort of thing that can lead to problematic behavior, it's not hard to imagine how these new mechanics could start causing people with addictive personalities some issues.
Reddit has published a list of 50 countries
where online gambling has been banned, and it is speculating that these could lead to the game being blocked in those countries. And indeed there have already been reports of the game being blocked in several countries, but these reports seem in need of
The UK Gambling Commission has told MPs that it does not currently oversee the purchase of in-game content like Fifa player packs and video game loot boxes.
This is because there is no official way to monetise what is inside them. A prize has to
be either money or have monetary value in order for it to fall under gambling legislation.
However, there are unauthorised third party sites which buy and sell in-game content or enable it to be used as virtual currency. Gambling Commission
programme director Brad Enright admitted that games publisher EA, which sells the football team management game Fifa, faced a constant battle against unauthorised secondary markets.
Dozens of parents have complained that their children are
spending hundreds of pounds on in-game purchases, and have criticised the process as a form of gambling as there is an element of chance in the outcome and their children are then tempted to buy again in order to try to get the result they want.
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McCarthur admitted that there were significant concerns around children playing video games in which there were elements of expenditure and chance. However, he added that under current legislation it did not classify as gambling.
Nintendo has made it very clear that they won't be stepping in to ask developers/publishers to censor content on their platforms. They'll leave the content monitoring to game rating organizations, as Nintendo believes those organizations will do their
job and rate games appropriately.
The latest example of Nintendo's hands-off approach is Raspberry Cube in Japan. The PS4 version of the game is cut has been rated CERO C, while the Switch version is uncut had has a higher CERO D rating (17+)
Back in February Kotaku UK reported on a game called Devotion disappearing from Steam , following the discovery of a piece of in-game art that mocked Chinese president Xi Jinping. We checked back in May, and the game had not reappeared .
Chinese Communist Party, world-famous for its sense of humour, has now decided that merely disappearing this game was not enough. Now it has revoked the business license of one of the game's publishers, Indievent.
Without a business license, you
cannot legally operate in China. So that's that for Indievent. worldwide. Devotion was developed by the Taiwanese studio Red Candle, but of course the Chinese market is essential for its economic viability.
And of course another point of this
extreme censorship is that it sends a message to game publishers worldwide. Now doubt most of them have an eye on the possibility of sales to China.
It seems that Devotion has been totally sunk by the Winnie the Pooh incident. Red Candle Gamessaid in a statement:
For the past four months, the art asset incident related to Devotion has caused immeasurable harm to Red Candle Games and our partner, (Chinese publisher Indievent),
While mediation is still in
progress, Red Candle's co-founders have reached a unanimous decision to not re-release 'Devotion' in the near term, including but not limited to obtaining profit from sales, revision, IP authorization, etc. to prevent unnecessary misconception.
The studio extended its apologies to all impacted teams and personnel, and is taking full responsibility for any and all losses.
Gears 5 , the forthcoming installment in the Gears of Wars third-person shooter game franchise, will be set in a smoking free environment.
The game, set for Sept. 10 release, comes from Xbox Game Studios and game developer The Coalition.
The decision to remove all smoking references from Gears 5 came after the anti-smoking campaigners from Truth Initiative approached media company Turner has broadcast rights to the title, about making the change. Turner collaborated with The Coalition to
strip out smoking from the game.
Past Gears of War titles have included occasional scenes with tobacco use, with certain characters holding cigarettes or cigars.
Of course, Gears 5 still includes a ton of shooting and, arguably, glorifies
violence. The game is rated M (for audiences 17+) for blood and gore, strong language and intense violence.
PlayerUnknown's Battleground is a 2017 South Korea Battle Royale by PUBG Corporation
Jordan's game censors at the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) have banned PUBG.
A statement claimed that the action came after a wave
of complaints from citizens and authorities alike. However, the TRC said one of its main reasons for implementing the ban was a World Health Organization study that classified PUBG as a violent game leading to addiction and social isolation, further
stating that children who play violent games are more violent than their peers.
Director of Beneficiaries Affairs at the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), Eng. Mohammad AlWathiq Shaqrah, revealed that after PUBG game was banned in
Jordan, the TRC is planning to ban six other video games. He said that Fortnite is one of the games expected to be banned.