On 8 June 2020 the UK Government published its response to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) Select Committee’s report on Immersive and Addictive Technologies (“Report”).

The response sets out the Government’s next steps regarding issues identified in the Report, which will be relevant for companies in the video games sector as well as those involved with immersive technologies. This could result in increased regulation in certain areas. For example, the outcome of the call for evidence in relation to loot boxes could lead to regulation of these practices under the review of UK gambling laws in the near future.

The response from the Government echoes its overarching ambition for the UK to be the safest place to be online, which is also stated in the Government’s previous response earlier this year to the Online Harms White Paper. This is therefore part of a wider range of measures that will have an impact on games companies going forward.  

The response includes the Government’s position in relation to items identified in the Report including:

  • call for evidence on loot boxes in the context of review of the Gambling Act 2005;
  • online age ratings for games;
  • further research in relation to video games and gaming disorder and effects of gambling like mechanics in games;
  • future online harms regulator and the ICO’s age appropriate design code;
  • esports;
  • disinformation and deepfakes; and
  • diversity in the games industry.

Loot boxes

Previously the UK Government announced it intends to carry out a review of the Gambling Act 2005, particularly focusing on issues regarding loot boxes. Currently loot boxes are not regulated under the Gambling Act in the UK.

Although the Government acknowledges various industry initiatives are already underway in relation to loot boxes, the Government stated in its response that it intends to launch a call for evidence on loot boxes. In addition to the written call for evidence, the Government expects there to be a series of roundtables to discuss issues and solutions in more detail, including the most effective ways to protect users from harm. The Government intends to publish full details of the call for evidence in due course.

The results of the call for evidence will be considered by the Government as part of the review of the Gambling Act. The Government has stated it “stands ready to take action should the outcomes of the call for evidence support taking a new approach to ensure users, and particularly young people are protected”.

Online Age Ratings

The Report recommended the Video Recordings Act should be amended to ensure online games are covered by the same enforceable age restrictions as games sold on physical media.

The Government in its response stated it wants to see age ratings for physical games applied to all online video games. The Government previously called on industry to adopt the PEGI age ratings for every online game, with best practice standards from the Video Standards Council Rating Board.

The Government intends to further assess voluntary compliance and will work with the industry to drive adoption on all major platforms. However, if progress is not forthcoming the Government stated in its response it will consider amending or creating legislation as the next step to ensure consumers are protected from potentailly harmful material online.

Video Games Research

The Report previously recommended that: gaming disorder should be an area of research for DCMS; that Government should require games companies to share aggregated player data with researchers and contribute financially to independent research via a levy administered by an impartial body; and DCMS should establish a scientific working group to collate the latest evidence on the effects of gambling like mechanisms in games.

In the Government’s response, the Government does not intend at this point to impose a levy on the games industry to pay for new research. There will be an assessment of the feasibility of a co-investment model with industry which maintains the independence of the research.

The Government also intends to explore the potential to create a mechanism to request and analyse industry data within the boundaries of the UK Data Protection Act 2018 and advice of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

To improve the quality and quantity of games research, DCMS’ Chief Scientific Adviser will discuss the Report’s recommendations with UK Research and Innovation and lead a series of workshops in 2020 with experts from academia, industry and relevant Research Councils. These will be used to help determine the full range and detail of questions that need to be addressed on the impacts of video games and make recommendations for further research programmes.

Future online harms regulator

In its initial response regarding the Online Harms Whitepaper, the Government stated it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the new online harms regulator. A full response from the Government with further policy details will be published later this year.

The Government supports the principles set out in the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code, and recognises its importance in making the UK the safest place to be online. The Government notes the Age Appropriate Design Code complements its wider work to protect children in advance of and alongside the new online harms regulatory framework. You can read more about the key points under the Age Appropriate Design Code in our summary here.

The Government noted that there is not yet sufficient evidence regarding the impact of screen time for the new online harms regulator to set requirements for companies or detailed guidelines for parents. However, the Government will continue to support research in this area.

The Government shared the concerns outlined in the Report regarding designed addiction and in the future expects the online harms regulator to support research and inform future action, and if required set clear expectations for companies to prevent harm for users. The Government also expects companies to be transparent regarding design practices that encourage extended engagement, and to engage with researches to understand the impact of these practices on users.

You can read more about the Government’s initial response to the Online Harms Whitepaper in our summary here.

Esports

The Government is bringing forwards plans for a ministerial roundtable with various esports stakeholders to discuss opportunities and barriers to market driven growth in the UK and how industry is working (or can in the future work) collectively to encourage best practice in areas like player well-being and esports integrity.

Disinformation and Deepfakes

The Government’s response noted that the Online Harms Whitepaper proposed that companies take prompt, transparent and effective action where appropriate to address online harms, including propagating false or misleading content. The Government intends to keep a close eye on how AI and digitally manipulated content such as deepfakes develop.

Diversity The Government agrees more work is needed in relation to diversity in the games sector, including addressing gender imbalance and improving representation of women and girls, both in the industry itself and within content.

Author

Ben advises clients in a wide range of industry sectors, focusing in particular on data protection compliance, including healthcare, financial services, adtech, video games, consumer and business-to-business organisations. Ben regularly assists clients with global data protection compliance projects and assessments as well as specific data protection challenges such as international transfers and data security breaches. Ben is also regularly involved in drafting and negotiating data protection clauses in agreements for various clients in a wide range of industry sectors. Ben also regularly advises clients on electronic direct marketing and cookies.

Author

Ben works with clients on matters involving the cross-over space of media, IP and technology. His practice has a particular focus on artificial intelligence, data protection, copyright and technology disputes. He has a particular expertise in intermediary liability issues.

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