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Here could be the start of another nail in the coffin for loot boxes, as the Children's Commissioner in England has put out a new report after a little study was done.

Never heard of the Children's Commissioner? It's a public independent body in England that is responsible for promoting and protecting the rights of children (read more here). The current head is Anne Longfield, who today released a pretty damning report on the state of how certain games and companies really attempt to suck money out of people at every opportunity.

I won't quote all of it to spare you some of the things we all already know but it's good to see such a thing being done over here. It's needed, it has been for a long time now. This particular study had them speak to children between 10 to 16 about their gaming habits, what they liked and disliked and so on. Games included that were talked about include Fortnite, Call of Duty, FIFA, Roblox and more which do have some pretty aggressive advertising of the in-game items and subscriptions.

Not all of it is terrible in the report though, thankfully Longfield does carefully mention how playing games can help people to socialise, learn new skills and have fun. All of this applies to adults, just as much as it does to children both the pros and cons of it all.

The result of the study is where it gets interesting. The Commissioner has called for multiple things to be changed, a few of which I will summarise below:

  • A place to track historic spending in games
  • A maximum daily spending limit in the games as well
  • Calls on the UK government to adjust the Gambling Act to regulate loot boxes as gambling
  • Calls on the UK government to have a wider review into the definition of gambling in the Gambling Act, due to all the new forms of monetization appearing in games
  • Games distributed online should get a legally enforceable age-rating system like physical games
  • A requirement of additional warnings for games which have in-game transactions

This bit especially caught my attention:

The amount of money spent, and the lack of a guaranteed reward meant children often feel like their money is wasted. In some cases, they lose control of their spending and attempt to ‘chase losses’ by spending more.

That sure as hell sounds like gambling to me…

You can find the full report here.

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58 comments
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Purple Library Guy 23 October 2019 at 4:35 pm UTC
ScattershotWith regard to gambling, or any addictive activity, the law should not be banning adults from engaging in it. However, it should regulate providers to ensure that they are not taking advantage of their clients.
I'm not sure I understand how a profitable gambling establishment can exist without taking advantage of its clients. It's giving them nothing and taking their money, by definition. What you're describing is the establishment of some sort of consensus of how much "taking advantage" our society considers reasonable. But as soon as you acknowledge that, it becomes clear that this is not a line that must exist at a particular place as you're trying to say, but rather that there are a constellation of social values that contribute to where we might want to put that line.

And if we actually wanted to ensure that there is no taking-advantage happening, we would in fact have to make gambling enterprises illegal. There may be countervailing reasons not to. But the only gambling that can even theoretically happen without someone being taken advantage of would be peer-to-peer.

(The main reason not to make gambling illegal seems to be analogous to the drug thing--it will happen anyway and if it's illegal it will be unregulated, untaxed and dominated by organized crime. Where I live these arguments lost a bit of force for me when it became clear that our legal casinos are still major conduits for money laundering, including drug money, and because of corruption free market policies, they don't pay much tax either, and unlike an illegal gambling den, which would surely be locally owned, these are foreign owned so the profits disappear from the local economy. Come to think of it, unlike the legal kind, illegal gambling can't actually launder money because the results are still . . . illegal. Illegal gambling hells are starting to look good by comparison. Most of these arguments don't apply to drugs, though. If drugs are legal you do seem to get tax money, the organized crime does seem to drain out, and you can divert funds from enforcement and jailing to treatment, and the addicts don't need to hide so it's easier to treat them. Should probably still make advertising 'em illegal though.)


Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 23 October 2019 at 4:41 pm UTC
namiko 23 October 2019 at 5:16 pm UTC
Purple Library GuyI'm not sure I understand how a profitable gambling establishment can exist without taking advantage of its clients. It's giving them nothing and taking their money, by definition. What you're describing is the establishment of some sort of consensus of how much "taking advantage" our society considers reasonable. But as soon as you acknowledge that, it becomes clear that this is not a line that must exist at a particular place as you're trying to say, but rather that there are a constellation of social values that contribute to where we might want to put that line.
Good points, all.

It's an issue of responsibility: How much should the average citizen be responsible for their own foolish mistakes? Some think government should take more responsibility for these mistakes, others, less responsibility.

It is indeed important to investigate where the "line" of responsibility a group of citizens is in relation to their wants or needs, and there's no universal answer for all jurisdictions. It may be much harder to undo new laws than to create them, so lawmakers should have the patience to avoid the "Do Something!" panic that difficult issues will inevitably bring up. Better to take things slow, as it may take even more years to undo a poorly-implemented, rushed law, if it can ever be removed from the books at all.

Unfortunately, I see the global trend going against the average citizen who may want to have fewer laws to worry about, but also moving more in favour of multinational businesses. Probably another reason why governments are so reluctant to act unless they could get some sort of extra benefit for regulating (children's data, and pay checks for the people developing or maintaining the surveillance system).
denyasis 23 October 2019 at 5:25 pm UTC
ScattershotDid you have your credit card stored in the device? This is a common mistake on Android/iOS devices given to children. If they want to purchase things then they should have to bring the device to you for you to enter your card details.


I agree with you and the answer for us was "sort of". I don't manage our Amazon account. But from what my wife told me, since it's linked to our Amazon account online, the device apparently defaulted to the default payment for my wife's Amazon Prime account, which is saved online. We've actually never purchased anything on the device before, so that's the only logical way it could have happened.

I'll have to ask her what she did exactly to lock the kids out. I think there s an option buried in the app. Otherwise, the only solution I can see is to remove the payment info from her account and I'm not sure that would work well since Prime is a subscription.

link to above post

The legally enforceable concept is also interesting. I think the "easiest" method of implementation would to place the burden on the distributor and parent, leaving the government out except for compliance checks. Essentially Steam or what have you would have a "check" to ensure the parent is approving the purchase. Something like a PIN number or 2FA styled authentication. Those mechanisms already exist, so pushing it out to all purchases wouldn't be impossible.

Essentially, who controls the payment on the account(s) is in charge. I suppose you could refine it a bit and allow the parent to set a "child" flag on the kid's profile forcing the authentication. That way it's not so heavy handed for all users.

A method like that would have the advantage of keeping the information in house, helping with privacy concerns. It would also give a good deal of control to parents, so they can have meaningful discussions with Their kids about their games.

Of course. Once a kid figured out the parent's PIN, gets a hold of their phone, our gets their own credit card, it's all over. I can't think of any system that can cover that without brining a huge number of privacy issues.

My country/society is really big on the parental override, so if it were to be implemented here instead of the UK, that would be a "must-have" component of any regulation. Is the UK the same way? Like limiting the kid, but allowing the parent to override the law with their consent and approval?


Last edited by denyasis on 23 October 2019 at 5:37 pm UTC
x_wing 23 October 2019 at 5:59 pm UTC
denyasisOf course. Once a kid figured out the parent's PIN, gets a hold of their phone, our gets their own credit card, it's all over. I can't think of any system that can cover that without brining a huge number of privacy issues.

I think that the problem of this applications is that there ins't a defined standard that instructs them on which are the minimum payment security measures that would made them kids friendly (in other words: the application should state somewhere that it could only be used by children with the continuous supervision of an adult). By the way: I don't imply that a state is sole responsible of such regulation, streaming platforms can create and define an foundation that regulates them.

I'm not sure why the possibility of a written regulation arises so much hate against a law that is yet to be written. Regulations is what defines our currents societies, the fact that we have a law/a set of written rules that gives a standard of how to behave is something we have adopted since centuries. IMO we can have a valid discussion about _liberty_ when the new regulation is written, because it's only then when we can understand if the regulation will end up removing the liberties of others.
tuubi 23 October 2019 at 6:05 pm UTC
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namikoIt's an issue of responsibility: How much should the average citizen be responsible for their own foolish mistakes? Some think government should take more responsibility for these mistakes, others, less responsibility.
The average citizen is fine. It's the most vulnerable of us who need a hand. Survival of the fittest is not a sound social policy.
Purple Library Guy 23 October 2019 at 8:08 pm UTC
denyasisI agree with you and the answer for us was "sort of". I don't manage our Amazon account. But from what my wife told me, since it's linked to our Amazon account online, the device apparently defaulted to the default payment for my wife's Amazon Prime account, which is saved online. We've actually never purchased anything on the device before, so that's the only logical way it could have happened.
That's kind of freaky. Wonders of modern technology, with all the lovely connectivity single-sign-on-everywhere and stuff. Not a downside that had specifically occurred to me.


Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 23 October 2019 at 8:09 pm UTC
namiko 23 October 2019 at 8:35 pm UTC
tuubi
namikoIt's an issue of responsibility: How much should the average citizen be responsible for their own foolish mistakes? Some think government should take more responsibility for these mistakes, others, less responsibility.
The average citizen is fine. It's the most vulnerable of us who need a hand. Survival of the fittest is not a sound social policy.
Most average citizens (or politicians) don't understand technology aside from it being a useful tool, and presume experts informing in good faith are always brought in for consultation on tech-related laws (they may not be).

In this case, the average citizen may also be quite vulnerable.
Dedale 23 October 2019 at 10:07 pm UTC
What said the commissioner is very clear: This IS gambling and should be regulated as such. He is not even asking for it to be illegal but to be labelled as such. So, a non monitored child could still gamble.

For the rest of the discussion about the morals of gambling, it boils down on whether you consider "weaker" people as vulnerable and deserving protection or on the contrary legitimate targets who deserve what happens to them. And in many countries it has been decided that potential addicts had to be protected from themselves and their predators.

And when i write that, i am not even sure you must be particularly vulnerable to fall for a gambling mechanism in a game.

That UK news looks soft on gambling to me. I expect other EU countries to ride roughshod on companies providing gambling mechanisms to children and even adults once their justice system or government or legislative bodies realize what happens.


Last edited by Dedale on 24 October 2019 at 12:01 pm UTC
Arehandoro 23 October 2019 at 10:25 pm UTC
namiko
Arehandoro
Tetsgovernment is like mafia. Probably worse, mafia takes your money and then leaves you alone (mostly). Government takes your money and with it tells you what you can (and can't!) do, how to behave, what to do with your life... I'm a human, not an ant or Chinese.
I can't believe how in one comment someone can show so much ignorance and racism. Reported, by the way.
*facepalm* Can someone mention a well-known criminal society and implicate a (for all intents and purposes) totalitarian country and not be castigated for saying that their systems are not good and remind him of how corrupted some governments or organizations go?

All italians are not affiliated with the mafia. All chinese citizens are not their government.

I don't know why you cut half of Tets comment. My post was because Tets was comparing ants with "Chinese" (Chinese what? Food, language, people...?), which is pretty racist anyway.
denyasis 23 October 2019 at 11:06 pm UTC
Purple Library GuyThat's kind of freaky. Wonders of modern technology, with all the lovely connectivity single-sign-on-everywhere and stuff. Not a downside that had specifically occurred to me.

Yeah. We never thought of that. I kinda get where the UK is coming from. The UI for the Amazon app places the purchase button in place of the play button. Roughly same shape and location and the cursor defaults to placing it on the buy button. Now my kids can't read yet, so I doubt they even knew they were making a purchase (looks the same to them). I'm not versed in UI design out marketing, but I wonder if it I'd intentional?

Like does that placement increase the rate of purchase, not just for little kids but for all of us? I'm starting to think so. I saw something similar on one of their games. The "next level" button got replaced with a "buy more levels" type button. Same location and size, but a different color. I can see a kid mindlessly clicking on it. Heck, I can see adults doing that!

I'm not very familiar with the loot box concept, but I can see it being very easy to get hooked on, especially if the cost isn't immediately felt (like the kid isn't handing over money, so it's harder to comprehend that exchange).
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