Almost all children in the UK play video games and for many it is an integral and highly enjoyable part of their social life. But research by the Children’s Commissioner (of the 10-16 age group in October 2019) revealed that some children feel out of control of their spending in online games as a result of the pressure and temptations of in-game purchases.
Although all types of in-game purchases can be problematic for children in terms of the pressure from peers or YouTubers to have desirable extras or to progress quickly in their games, loot boxes bring an additional concern due to their lack of a guaranteed reward. (Card packs and prize wheels also fall into this category). Loot boxes are items within video games that can be purchased for real or virtual currency, but the player does not know what they will receive until after they have paid. They can include cosmetic or functional items such as additional characters, outfits, tools, weapons or they may unlock extra levels, new skills or provide upgrades which advance a player’s gaming position. The result of these transactions is dependent on chance and is therefore akin to gambling.
The Children’s Commissioner’s report noted that “In general, children do not have effective strategies to manage their online spend.” They can sometimes to be tempted to “chase losses”. The report recognised the possible link between gaming and gambling and the resulting risk of addiction.
The Digital Culture Media and Sport select committee undertook an inquiry into immersive and addictive technologies with a particular focus on online gaming. It made the following recommendations:
- We recommend that loot boxes that contain the element of chance should not be sold to children playing games, and instead in-game credits should be earned through rewards won through playing the games (para 79)
- We recommend that … the UK Government advises PEGI to apply the existing ‘gambling’ content labelling, and corresponding age limits, to games containing loot boxes that can be purchased for real- world money and do not reveal their contents before purchase (para 86)
- The Government should bring forward regulations under section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 … to specify that loot boxes are a game of chance. (para 98)
Following these recommendations, in April 2020 PEGI (Pan European Game Information) announced that their ratings will now include a warning if a game has “random paid items” defined as “those that can be purchased directly with real money and/or those that can be exchanged for an in-game virtual currency that itself can be purchased directly with real money.”
There has also been a commitment made by major games publishers to reveal the probability of obtaining in-game virtual items from purchased loot boxes by no later than the end of 2020.
With a view to reviewing the Gambling Act, the Government is now calling for evidence on loot boxes and is looking for responses from parents/carers of children who play video games and from children over 16. They will examine the impact of loot boxes, particularly on young children, and links to gambling-like behaviour and excessive spending in games.
Has your child run up an unexpected bill on your accounts? Are you concerned about the amount of money your child spends on in-game purchases? Do you think loot boxes are a form of gambling that should be restricted to adults? To have your say, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/loot-boxes-in-video-games-call-for-evidence
All responses should be submitted by the closing date which is 23:59 on 22 November 2020.
Gooseberry Planet offers a number of scenarios for different age groups addressing this issue, each one of which is supported by Parent Advice Sheets.