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New Guidance Issued For Game Developers On Protecting Children

The ICO has released new guidance for game developers to help create safer spaces for young gamers in this ever-growing market

Photo Credit: Nicolas Perez

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued recommendations to game developers to help protect children when playing video games.

These guidelines are intended to protect children when playing games and ensure that data protection laws are followed. The presented recommendations are based on experience and findings of a recent series of voluntary audits of game developers, studios and publishers within the games industry.

In the UK alone the report notes that 93% of children play video games, that is a huge majority of young individuals that spend time playing games on various platforms. These new recommendations look to ensure that games conform with the Children’s Code and should assist design and gaming communities to embed data protection considerations.

Protecting young gamers

The Children’s Code is a code of practice for online services that are likely to be accessed by children such as games or metaverse experiences. This helps to explain how the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation applies to children when using digital services.

The new recommendations for game developers cover various ideas. First is the ability to identify if players are under the age of 18 with a reasonable degree of certainty and discourage false declarations of age. We have recently seen the popular gaming platform Discord implement new user verification methods that help to verify the identity of a user as cases of false impersonation can create mistrust.

Further guidance tackles concerns about children’s health and well-being, stating that games should include checkpoints and age-appropriate prompts to encourage players to take breaks from extended play. These prompts should help players disengage from an extended play session without feeling pressured to continue playing or becoming fearful that they may be missing out. Various games already have these types of systems in place such as Fortnite and Fifa 23. Many games and video game platforms have parental controls that can also set game time limits which parents should be aware of.

Other recommendations address turning off behavioural profiling for marketing by default. If a child chooses to opt in to receiving ads then measures should be implemented to control or monitor product placement and advertising. This includes within community servers. Since these options are often on by default many children may not understand or know that they are being monitored for marketing data.

Safe spaces

A final piece of guidance was given which discourages the use of ‘nudge techniques’ which may encourage children to make poor privacy decisions. This includes reviewing the marketing of social media competitions and partnerships to children and encouraging them to create social media accounts to gain rewards.

Group manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office, Leanne Doherty comments on the recommendations saying, “Gaming plays a central part in so many young people’s lives, and the community and interaction around games can be a child’s first steps into the digital world. We want those first experiences to be positive ones, and the recommendations we’ve published today are there to support game developers.”

Doherty went on to say, “The Children’s Code makes clear that children are not like adults online, and their data needs greater protection. We want children to be online, learning, playing and experiencing the world, but with the right protections in place to do so.”

With gaming spaces such as the metaverse starting to become more popular, these spaces which are often online must be safe for young minds. The metaverse already has reports of harassment and Interpol looking at ways of policing these virtual worlds.

Written By

Paige Cook is a writer with a multi-media background. She has experience covering video games and technology and also has freelance experience in video editing, graphic design, and photography. Paige is a massive fan of the movie industry and loves a good TV show, if she is not watching something interesting then she's probably playing video games or buried in a good book. Her latest addiction is virtual photography and currently spends far too much time taking pretty pictures in games rather than actually finishing them.

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