How age assurance builds trust and safety on gaming platforms

profile picture Rachael Trotman 9 min read

There is a growing agreement that more needs to be done to improve online safety. Regulators around the world are introducing new laws to make the digital world safer and ensure young people have an age-appropriate experience online. 

With legislation such as the Age Appropriate Design Code, the UK’s Online Safety Act, and the EU’s Digital Services Act reshaping the industry, gaming companies are facing a new era of accountability and responsibility.

From implementing age assurance measures to ensuring age-appropriate content and experiences, gaming companies must navigate the regulatory landscape while prioritising user safety and privacy. 

This blog explores some of the key regulations gaming companies need to know about, and the importance of online age assurance in ensuring compliance and player safety.

Regulations to have on your radar 

The Age Appropriate Design Code (also known as the Children’s Code) was introduced by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in 2021. It is an amendment to the 2018 Data Protection Act, which requires online services to “put the best interests of the child first”. Whilst not law, the ICO has powers to fine businesses that don’t comply – up to 4% of their global annual turnover or suspend their operations in the UK. 

Much of the Code focuses on how children’s data is processed. It suggests high privacy settings as default and minimising the data collected. It goes further than other data protection laws, such as GDPR and COPPA, in that it also considers how products and features are designed in ways that can cause harm to children. 

Under the Age Appropriate Design Code, game developers must identify if players are under the age of 18 with a reasonable degree of certainty and limit risks for the appropriate age groups. 

Another piece of legislation impacting gaming companies is the UK’s Online Safety Act. It was passed into law in October 2023 and imposes extensive duties on regulated companies to protect their users, especially children, from content that is illegal, harmful to children, and ‘legal but harmful’ to adults. The Act will bring in a new era of online safety, regulation and accountability. The potential fines for non-compliance will be high; up to £18 million or 10% of annual global revenue. 

If your gaming platform allows users to create and share content, has chat functionality and is available in the UK, you will be impacted by the Online Safety Act. It’s time to start considering the measures you need to put in place to be compliant. 93% of children in the UK play video games; as such, many gaming platforms are impacted by the UK’s Online Safety Act and Children’s Code. 

In Europe, there are also a number of pieces of legislation where age assurance and age appropriateness are referred to, including the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) and the Digital Services Act (DSA). 

The DSA was introduced in November 2022 and came into force on 17th February 2024. It is the EU’s landmark rulebook that aims to make online environments safer, fairer and more transparent. The DSA is applicable to ‘very large online platforms’ (VLOPs) and ‘very large online search engines’ (VLOSEs) with over 45 million monthly users. It also applies to platforms if they operate in the US or have a ‘substantial connection’ to the EU – such as their main operation being located there or they have a significant number of users in the EU. 

These regulations are not about excluding children and young people from going online. It’s about offering them experiences and content which are suitable for their age.

What does this mean for gaming companies? 

In simple terms, you need to know the age or age range of the people accessing your platform, website or service. After all, if you don’t know if they are a child, how can you protect them or act in their best interests? Once you know the age of users, you can adapt the content so that it is appropriate for their age. 

The ICO provides a lot of helpful guidance on this to help companies comply with the Age Appropriate Design Code. Some examples include: 

  • having age-appropriate prompts to encourage players to take breaks
  • having the highest privacy settings as default for children
  • giving players age-appropriate explanations
  • ensuring voice chat is also turned off by default
  • offering age-appropriate terms and conditions, privacy information and support

In terms of the UK’s Online Safety Act, gaming platforms will need to implement age assurance measures so they know the age or age range of their players. With this knowledge, platforms can ensure they deliver an age-appropriate experience. 

This might involve limiting certain high-risk features for specific age groups, such as voice chat or age-gating certain content if it’s deemed inappropriate for players under a certain age. After all, private chat functionality can result in children unwittingly talking to adults with malicious intentions, who may groom or exploit children. Live streaming can also expose children to inappropriate behaviour which is not age-appropriate. 

When it comes to the DSA, there’s a whole host of requirements companies need to comply with. One requirement that is likely to impact gaming companies is introducing heightened data protection measures for children. If a platform is accessible to children, companies must take steps to protect the safety of these users. 

Platforms may need to change the language in their terms and conditions so that children can understand them. They may need to put parental controls into place so that parents and guardians can help protect their children from exposure to harmful content. Or they may need to create tools to allow young people to report content and receive tailored support.

Some of the largest gaming platforms, including Lockwood Publishing and Kid Web Services, part of Epic Games, are already using different age assurance options to create age-appropriate experiences online. 

But many gaming companies have yet to explore how they’re going to tackle the challenges of content, contact, contract and conduct between underage and overage users. There is no silver bullet when it comes to child safety, but a range of options exist to protect children online. 

Privacy-preserving age checks 

Many people believe that the only way to establish the age of a user is to ask them to use an identity document. Whilst this is one method, other solutions do exist and may be more appropriate. 

Facial age estimation technology estimates age from a live facial image. It allows people to pass an age threshold in seconds without needing to use an identity document, credit card or share any personally identifiable information. It is a private, easy and secure way for people to access age-gated content online, while also protecting people who are underage. The technology does not recognise anyone so it is not facial recognition. 

Facial age estimation is being used by leading gaming brands to offer inclusive age checks and create age-appropriate experiences.

Kids Web Services (KWS), the parent verification and consent management toolset, offers parents new ways to provide parental consent online. Once a parent or guardian has proved they are an adult, they can then review the settings and features of a particular game or app and determine whether or not to grant permission for their child to access the service. This helps children access online content and experiences that are age-appropriate.

KWS integrated our facial age estimation into its toolset, giving parents a privacy-preserving way to prove their age. This is particularly impactful for those who do not own an identity document or credit card.

In the time since integrating our technology into KWS, over 70% of parents have chosen facial age estimation as their method of verification, in the countries where it is available. Over 5.5 million parents have successfully used facial age estimation to prove their age to grant parental consent online. Our technology has stopped over 4.2 million young people who attempted to pass the 25+ adult age check, and detected 793,000 attempts to spoof the age estimation system. That’s millions of children who are more protected from accessing content and features that require parental consent.

One of the key benefits of facial age estimation is that users do not need to share personal details like their name or date of birth, or use an identity document. This is one reason why Lockwood Publishing chose our facial age estimation technology over other age verification methods. They wanted to offer age-restricted features on Avakin Life, but did not want to rely on self-assertion methods and did not want to introduce something which would create friction or negatively impact the player experience. 

Facial age estimation solves this problem; age estimations take around a second, giving players a quick and seamless experience. It ensures that only adult players can access 18+ content; improving the safety for younger audiences.

Over one billion people around the world do not own an identity document, making facial age estimation a more inclusive and accessible option for people needing to prove their age. For gaming platforms, it’s also not practical to only ask for an identity document when determining a user’s age – many young people are not old enough to have a driving licence and some may not own a passport. With around 30% of gamers globally aged 2-18, gaming platforms need to offer solutions which cater to this age group. 

Another privacy-preserving age solution is our reusable Digital ID app. Digital IDs allow individuals to share specific details, such as an ‘over 13’ proof of age. Platforms can be confident they know the age of their players, without having to collect vast amounts of personal information. This creates a more seamless experience than having to show a physical identity document every time.

Online age assurance is no longer optional

We believe that people should have a choice in how they prove their age to ensure age assurance is inclusive and accessible to all. People can then choose the method which feels the most comfortable to them. Gaming platforms can see which options are most popular with their players, and switch to alternative methods if there are regulatory changes in a given country. 

With a growing tide of regulation, online age assurance is no longer optional, but a necessity in gaming. With innovative and robust age solutions, platforms can comply with regulation and keep players safe whilst giving them incredible, age-appropriate experiences.

To learn more about how we can help your gaming platform, please get in touch.