The UK government is seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s thriving video game industry, including the potential impact on users’ mental health. With popular games such as Grand Theft Auto and Football Manager being produced in the UK, the industry is valued at £2.8bn and over half of the country’s adults participate in gaming. However, the government believes that there is insufficient research on how the industry can benefit the broader economy.
Additionally, the government is interested in exploring how video games can enhance learning skills and promote positive relationships, perceptions, and behaviour among gamers. Researchers have also been tasked with investigating whether gaming companies utilise unethical methods to keep players engaged.
A lack of data has hindered previous studies examining the psychological effects of video games. This issue was highlighted in a government study on loot boxes – in-game features that enable users to purchase sealed mystery “boxes” with real money or points earned in a game – last year. A new guide has been developed to establish a legal framework that allows the gaming industry to share data gathered from players without violating privacy laws.
Under the proposed system, the gaming industry would use tools called Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to automatically create databases accessible only to researchers. Peter Etchells, Professor of Psychology and Science Communication at Bath Spa University, said: “The new Video Games Research Framework provides a much-needed set of standards to advance the scientific study of games in an ethical, progressive and robust manner. My hope is that this will allow us to leverage the power of player data, in order to answer meaningful questions about how games can impact health and behaviour.”
The framework has been developed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in collaboration with academics and the gaming industry. The UK is currently the fifth largest video game market in the world, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association.
Creative industries minister John Whittingdale commented: “Video games are a booming industry – employing thousands of people and contributing billions to our economy, whilst bringing enjoyment to people in fun and challenging ways. Today’s plans will encourage more research and study in this area so we can better support the opportunities of this highly innovative sector while also protecting players.”
British gaming companies can apply for Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR), which allows qualifying companies to claim back 20% of production costs during development. It is estimated that 68% of games supported by the VGTR would not be produced in the UK or at all without this relief.
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