Young gamers in loot box debt warning

Paid-for 'loot boxes' are an option in many games.Paid-for 'loot boxes' are an option in many games.
Paid-for 'loot boxes' are an option in many games.
In-game ‘loot boxes’ should be classed as online gambling, a charity has warned, as new research found that more than one in 10 young gamers get into debt buying paid-for boxes.

The Gambling Health Alliance found that almost one in six young gamers had taken money from their parents without their permission to buy loot boxes - which allow gamers to buy extra lives or bonuses - while one in ten had used their parents’ credit or debit card to fund their loot box purchases. It said the habit increased the chance of gamers turning to other forms of gambling later in life.

On top of the purchase price of the game, which is on average £35, almost one in four respondents spent over £100 on loot boxes over the course of completing a game, suggesting young people are being set on a path to an expensive and potentially addictive habit this Christmas.

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Many respondents felt loot boxes damaged their gaming experience, citing a number of factors, including: the games were ‘play to win’ - without spending heavily on loot boxes, it was impossible to play competitively; that the odds of getting valuable items were incredibly low, leaving them feeling frustrated and ripped off; the features surrounding the loot boxes, as well as the purpose they served in the game, made them especially addictive.

Duncan Stephenson, chair of the GHA and deputy chief executive of RSPH, said: “We know that many teenagers will be unwrapping video games for Christmas, and while we know they give a huge amount of enjoyment for many, we are concerned that games containing loot boxes are having an impact on the finances of young people.

“While this is a small survey of gamers, our research suggests that the drive to play games containing loot boxes is encouraging many to beg, borrow and steal – loot boxes really are the gift that keeps on taking. Aside from the financial cost our latest survey with gamers suggests that the fixation with loot boxes can lead to classic symptoms of addiction including mood swings, problems sleeping, and impacting on their social life.”

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He added: “We are calling for parents to be aware of the risks of loot boxes when buying presents this Christmas, and to boycott games with these predatory mechanics until we see them classified as a form of gambling and removed from games played by under 18s.”

The vast majority of young people made the connection between buying loot boxes and gambling, with 91 per cent of survey respondents agreeing that loot boxes should be classified as a form of gambling and three in four saying that loot boxes should be illegal for under 18s to buy. Gamers also thought they could be a gateway to other forms of gambling, with two in five agreeing that spending money on a loot box before the age of 18 would make someone more likely to gamble when older.

Geraldine Bedell, executive editor of Parent Zone, said: “Our research, like the GHA’s, points to the exploitation of children by gambling-like mechanisms in online games, and the use of psychological techniques drawn from gambling. Risks are being taken with the future of young people, who are being taught to gamble.”

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