Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs – gpgmail


UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“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,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“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.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning 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,” the committee writes on that.

“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,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“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,” adds Collins.


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Roblox announces new game-creation tools and marketplace, $100M in 2019 developer revenue – gpgmail


A week after gaming platform Roblox announced its new milestone of 100 million monthly users — topping Minecraft — the company said at its fifth annual developer conference that its developer community is on track to earn $100 million in 2019. Roblox also introduced a new set of developer tools for building immersive, more realistic 3D experiences; detailed its plans to make its developer software fully cloud-based; unveiled a new Developer Marketplace where creators can set their development assets and tools to others; and more.

Over the past decade or so, Roblox has grown to become a $2.5 billion company, with roughly half of U.S. children ages 9 through 12 playing on its platform.

The company provides game-creation tools via Roblox Studio, which developers use to build their own games for people to play. Roblox doesn’t pay the developers for their work — rather, the developers generate revenue through virtual purchases, which players buy using the in-game currency Robux.

At its invite-only event, the Roblox Developers Conference, which was held Friday, August 9 through Sunday, August 11, the company announced new tools aimed at enabling small developer teams to work together to build more massive games that can support hundreds of players.

The news follows the growing popularity of Roblox’s larger games, like Adopt Me (180.7K players), Royale High (68.7K players), Welcome to Bloxburg (66.7K players), MeepCity (52.4K players), Murder Mystery 2 (33.7K players), Work at a Pizza Place (32.7K players) and others.

The new toolset will offer developers access to an enhanced lighting system, updated terrain and other visual upgrades, including support for building competitive matchmaking games that will match players of similar skill levels, the company said.

Roblox had earlier discussed its plans for these sorts of visual improvements, which VP of Product Enrico D’Angelo said were prioritized in order to up the quality of the games.

The company said at RDC it’s also on track to bring its creation tools, Roblox Studio, to the cloud by year-end. This will allow developers to collaborate in real time, access their development files online and work across computing platforms to do things like manage permissions, versions and rollbacks.

In addition to monetizing their games, developers also will be able to monetize their development assets and tools through a new Developer Marketplace, where they can sell their plug-ins, vehicles, 3D models, terrain enhancements and other items.

“The Roblox creator community thinks of things we could never imagine, and their continued growth is our future,” said David Baszucki, founder and CEO, Roblox, in a statement about the new tools. “With top Roblox experiences achieving more than 100,000 concurrent users and 1 billion plays, there’s no denying the power of user-generated content. We are committed to supporting our creator community with the tools and resources they need to realize even greater success,” he added.

The company also made note of its improved localization support for Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese and Spanish, and discussed its recent Microsoft partnership in more detail.

Roblox had previously announced a collaboration with Microsoft Azure PlayFab, which made PlayFab’s LiveOps analytics service free to Roblox’s top 10,000 developers. This allows the game creators to track trends in player behavior, purchase history and game telemetry.

Alongside Roblox’s user growth, its creator community has been expanding, as well.

Today, there are more than 2 million Roblox game creators worldwide, ranging from indie developers to studios with teams of 10 or 20 people. Over 500 developers attended the three-day event in San Francisco and the private RDC 2019 viewing party in London.

“We ultimately become more and more inspired and convinced that this is not just the future of gaming, this is really the future of a whole new category,” said Baszucki, during the keynote. “I believe we’re sitting with not just the future of gaming,” he said, addressing the crowd of developers at RDC, “but the future of human co-experience.”

“We have this vision that there’s a new category emerging that’s bigger than gaming,” the CEO continued. “It’s the category that allows people around the world to connect, to not just play together, but to work together, to learn together and to create together.”

gpgmail’s Extra Crunch recently analyzed Roblox’s history and business in its EC-1, which you can read here (Extra Crunch membership required).

Photo credits: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Roblox


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