May 25, 2022

Head of NHS’s Mental Health Unit Calls for More to be Done About Loot Boxes

It is arguably the hottest topics of debate within the gaming community right now. The implementation of loot boxes. From mobile games to AAA console releases, there’s been evidence of this evil everywhere in the industry for the years.

Now, the Head of the NHS’ Mental Health service has weighed in on the matter.

NHS (National Health Service for our non-UK readers) mental health director Claire Murdoch has written a strongly-worded statement. Murdoch’s statement calls for a crackdown on mechanics like lootboxes and microtransactions. The extent of Murdoch’s statement goes as far as to suggest the ban of these mechanics from child-accessible games completely.

Claire Murdoch CBE

To catch everyone up to speed, in 2019, loot boxes and “video game addiction” made mainstream news. MPs quizzed representatives of Epic Games and EA over the use of loot boxes and similar mechanics.

Games were “setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble”. To highlight this practice, games like Fortnite and FIFA were used as prime examples.

“Surprise Mechanics”

Notorious in its use of loot boxes, Star Wars: Battlefront II ushered in a new low for the whole practice. As such, several EU states banning loot boxes from their country.

Oh, sorry, EA don’t use “loot boxes”. As EA’s Kerry Hopkins stated in the MP’s questioning, “we don’t call them loot boxes – we call then ‘surprise mechanics'”.

VP of Legal at EA, Kerry Hopkins

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee asked Epic and EA various topics. Ranging from play-time; a duty of care to players; and the potential for addiction, the companies were in the firing line. Both companies either did not keep track of (play-time); argued against (duty of care to players); or failed to acknowledge these issues at all (addiction).

Serious Health Implications

Representatives from EA and Epic Games being grilled by MPs

The World Health Organisation recently made a high-profile classification over gaming disorder as a recognised disease.

Whether you agree with this or not is irrelevant. It is a recognised disease that representatives from two of the biggest publishers failed to comprehend.

Back to Claire Murdoch’s statement. To try and help with the addiction, the NHS has confirmed that a new treatment centre will be opening up. The UK’s first gaming addiction centre was opening in London in October last year.

In her statement, Murdoch said;

“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.

Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing”.

The NHS and the RSPH Weigh In

Shirley Cramer, CBE

Shirley Cramer CBE, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health made the following statement;

“The rise of gambling by stealth in video games is a threat to the health and wellbeing of young people, and we commend the NHS for coming out with this bold call.

There is no doubt that loot boxes must be regarded as a form of gambling – and indeed our research showed that three in five young people regard them as such. And yet, the world of online gaming remains an unregulated, fast-evolving and opaque market with little to no safeguards for children.

The Government must now make good on its manifesto commitment and move without delay to revamp the outdated 2005 Gambling Act so that it reflects the challenges of the modern-day and protects our young people”.

Gambling Without the Regulations

What is interesting here is that the Gambling Commission does not actually regulate loot boxes for one reason. Due to a perceived inability to “cash-out” with loot boxes, they are exempt from regulation. This is thanks to a loophole in the system.

However, as Eurogamer reported, cashing-out is possible.

The UK Interactive Entertainment Association (UKIE) who represents video game publishing in the UK, said the following;

“The games industry takes its responsibility to players very seriously and acknowledges that some people are concerned.

That is why on the 10th January we launched our Get Smart About PLAY campaign, which is designed to help parents and carers manage play online and in the home.

It shows that it is already possible to manage, limit or turn off spend in games with the help of family controls, providing practical guidance on how to do so at www.askaboutgames.com.

The games industry has already committed to measures to inform players about purchasing choices, including in regards to loot boxes.

New platform policies will require optional paid loot boxes in games to disclose information on the relative rarity or probability of obtaining randomised virtual items by the end of 2020, with many companies doing this voluntarily already.

The government has committed to conducting a review of the Gambling Act, which loot boxes will form a part of. We look forward to working constructively with them on it.”

Closing Thoughts

Of course, we could say that this is only the beginning of a long road to recovery for the industry. The implementation of loot boxes and microtransactions have been allowed to sneak into our beloved games for too long already. It’s even got to the point where some games have been released free of microtransactions, only to have them patched back in at a later date. The whole industry has become quite shady and toxic.

Thankfully though, if the likes of the NHS has stepped up to the mark then at least there is help for those currently suffering from the ill effects of gaming. Besides that, is the answer more of a simple “prevention is better than cure” topic of conversation? But then with that, where do we stop? Sure, parents have responsibilities, but then so too should game publishers.

It’s a hot topic for sure. Why not weigh in on the subject yourselves? Let us know what you think about it all in our comments section. Please do visit the links if your family or friends are in need of some expert advice. Gaming should be a place for fun, after all.


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