Parliamentary inquiry into links between gaming & gambling, loot boxes and eSports

It has been announced that the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee is launching an inquiry that will include consideration of the following questions:

  • What are the links between gaming and gambling?
  • What are the effects of in-game spending, especially on children, and does it need stronger monitoring or regulation?
  • What challenges and opportunities do gaming and eSports offer the gambling industry and how should that be managed?

We have previously reported on concerns about skins gambling and loot boxes in video games expressed in September 2018 by the UK’s Gambling Commission and gambling regulators for the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Malta and Washington State in the USA, who signed an agreement to work together to address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling.

The inquiry by the DCMS Committee will also address the following questions when examining the future of eSports in the UK:

  • What is the future for the industry, in terms of future growth, ethics and regulation?
  • How might the links between traditional sports and their electronic counterparts be strengthened?

You can read here our previous comments on the Gambling Commission’s March 2017 position paper on virtual currencies, eSports and social gaming.

The above questions will form just part of an inquiry that will focus on:

  • the development of immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and the potential impact these could have in the worlds of sport, entertainment and news and
  • how the addictive nature of some technologies can affect users’ engagement with gaming and social media, particularly amongst younger people.

The DCMS Committee is inviting evidence (by way of written submissions) from the public, organisations and others with relevant expertise, on the terms of reference by Monday 14 January 2019.

The full terms of reference and further information about the inquiry can be found on the www.parliament.uk website. A copy of the relevant webpage can also be downloaded below.

Commenting on the inquiry, Damian Collins, Chair of the DCMS Committee, has said:

The way we interact with cutting-edge technologies is life-changing for our generation and generations to come. We have the opportunity now to shape that development, setting an agenda that benefits our economy and how we spend our leisure time, while ensuring the right safeguards are built in.

We’re seeing industries emerge that offer enormous potential for growth such as eSports and gaming where the UK is rightly regarded as a world leader in production. We’ll be looking at what action is needed to ensure we remain a key player. Technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality is already an important asset to the film industry, simulated training, and gaming. We want to understand more about its potential and the future impact it could have on society.  The development of ‘deep fake’ augmented reality films, is already a cause for concern because of their potentially disruptive impact in spreading disinformation.

During our recent inquiries, the committee has heard repeated concerns about the impact to society of the increasing amounts of time that people spend immersed in online worlds, and the potentially addictive nature of social media and gaming. We want to explore these concerns during this inquiry and consider what the right response should be in setting public policy for the future.

The Committee will also consider how individuals’ online data is used by immersive technologies and what security is offered. The Government has recently pledged to make the UK ‘the safest place to be online and the best place to start and grow a digital business’.

UPDATE: A Times article on 7 January 2019 entitled Top YouTube stars ‘encourage children to use gambling site’ alleges that YouTube ‘stars’ have been promoting to children a ‘MysteryBrand’ site where people are able to pay fixed amounts to open virtual boxes that could contain expensive or low-value items such as computer games, trainers, toys or other items, in other words pay in order to try to win such items. Commenting on this, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is quoted in the Times article as saying: “Mystery boxes are gambling products, plain and simple . . . We know gambling is a serious problem for too many under-18s and while gambling companies say they do not target children, many of the products in the mystery boxes are bound to appeal to them”. The article also maintains that the ‘MysteryBrand’ site “is being assessed by the Gambling Commission”. It is likely that the DCMS Committee will want to explore this further as part of its above-mentioned inquiry.