In recent years, MPs have called on the government to classify loot boxes – a key feature of many online games – as gambling. This would ban their sale to anybody under the age of 18. Loot boxes are a key feature of many online games. They have come under fire for using predatory techniques to push players to spend money while gaming. Some researchers have noted an overlap between loot boxes and problem gambling.
With 93% of children in the UK currently playing games, this affects many families. A report by ParentZone underpins the impacts that these gaming features can have - https://parentzone.org.uk/the-rip-off-games.
What are loot boxes?
Loot boxes are virtual treasure chests containing undisclosed items that can be used in games. These might be ways of customising characters or weapons (‘skins’). These contents may affect progress through the game, or simply be designed to convey status.
Do loot boxes pose a risk?
Loot boxes aren’t needed to play the games in which they appear – but their contents can still be very tempting to a child. Getting a ‘legendary skin’ from a Fortnite loot box can be a significant status symbol. Loot boxes In FIFA can unlock outstanding footballers. But this is a lottery: very few games reveal how often the more highly prized items are won.
Many games use psychological techniques borrowed from the gambling industry, ‘nudging’ players to keep spending money. Research has found that younger children were especially vulnerable. While academic research into the links between gaming and gambling has not proved that loot boxes (which are after all a recent invention) cause addiction, researchers are worried enough to urge caution.
What can parents/carers do?
-Parents and carers should be aware that children are often pressurised to spend money on loot boxes. If you can, talk to children about why they think they are being asked to spend money without knowing what they’ll get in return.
-Buying a loot box occasionally isn’t going to lead to problem gambling. The concern comes when the habit gets out of control. Make sure to get involved and be aware of what your child is spending.
-Check that your card details aren’t saved on any gaming system. It’s easy for a child to get tempted into buying a new skin for their character or a new weapon camo – or simply to click the wrong button and make an accidental purchase. Beware of having payment methods (vouchers, prepaid cards, debit/credit card) linked to their account.
Mr M Allday