Games developers issued new guidance on protecting children

The Information Commissioner's Office has published new recommendations for game developers to protect children and comply with data laws.

Video game developers must identify if their players are under 18 and ensure their games are not detrimental to children’s well-being under new guidance issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The data protection watchdog has issued the new recommendations to ensure game makers and providers comply with the UK’s data laws.

The ICO said the guidance would ensure video games conform with the Children’s Code, a code of practice for online services that outlines how UK data protection rules apply to children using digital services.

The recommendations say games developers should not only identify if players are under 18, but also discourage false declarations of age.

It says games should ensure they are not detrimental to children’s health and well-being by including checkpoints and age-appropriate prompts to encourage players to take breaks from play, while behavioural profiling for marketing purposes should be switched off by default.

The guidance also recommends that so-called nudge techniques to encourage children to reduce their privacy – by pushing them to create a social media account in exchange for rewards – should be discouraged.

“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,” Leanne Doherty, group manager at the ICO, said.

“We want those first experiences to be positive ones, and the recommendations we’ve published today are there to support game developers.

“The Children’s Code makes clear that children are not like adults online, and their data needs greater protections.

“We want children to be online, learning, playing and experiencing the world, but with the right protections in place to do so.”

According to the ICO, 93% of children in the UK play video games, with younger children playing an average of two to three hours a day, while older children average three or more hours of play time.