16 Dec 2019
Do you know what a loot box is? There’s a good chance you’d never even heard of this type of in-game purchase until September 2019, when a government report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee called for them to be regulated — and proposed a ban for under-18s. Overnight, loot boxes became big news.
Loot boxes are virtual treasure chests that video gamers can buy to improve their game. They contain special characters, equipment or skins but, a bit like a random drawing, players don’t know what’s inside when they buy them. They’re popular in many games, including FIFA 20 and Overwatch — even though players might have to buy hundreds of loot boxes to find the one item they really want.
Some loot boxes can be won as rewards in games, but others are bought and paid for with real money. They might sound fairly affordable — players can buy them for around $1.30 each — but costs can easily spiral out of control when players start to buy bundles of 50 for around $40.
A 2018 survey by the Gambling Commission found that 31% of children had paid for loot boxes. And when we look at gohenry card transactions, we can see that boys aged 11 and 12 spent almost half their money (46%) on gaming in 2018 — and 13 year-old boys spent a whopping $250 each.
Critics say loot boxes encourage gambling because they involve an element of chance: when you buy one, you’re taking a gamble on what’s inside. There’s also a concern that players will keep spending more and more money on loot boxes until they ‘win’ and find what they want inside — which is typical gambling behavior.
In 2018, computer scientists from York St Luke University and University of York established a ‘strong link’ between loot box spending and problem gambling. There’s also evidence that the number of child gamblers is on the rise: in 2018 the Gambling Commission found that the number of children aged 11-16 with a gambling problem has quadrupled to 50,000 in just two years.
Last year loot boxes were banned in Belgium, where gambling is tightly regulated. Others are campaigning for the government in the United Kingdom to regulate the sale of loot boxes and ban them from being sold to children. There are also calls for games containing loot boxes to be clearly labelled to warn parents that they contain gambling content.
Some gaming companies have already made changes. Fortnite have made their ‘loot llamas’ transparent so that players can see what’s inside before they buy. These are available in the Save the World mode and can be bought with the game’s currency, which is called V-Bucks. A player can buy 1,000 V-Bucks for $10.
Even if children under the age of 18 are ultimately banned from loot boxes, it’s likely to be difficult to enforce as so many players and households share games and consoles.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about parents who’ve picked up huge bills for their kids’ in-game purchases. Part of the problem is that children don’t always understand that those virtual purchases cost real money. So, the first step is to explain to your child how much loot boxes actually cost — and the easiest way to do this is to encourage them to pay for them with their own spending money. Those V-Bucks might lose their appeal when your child has to cough up their own cash!
If you’d like to keep an eye on how much your child is spending, it’s easy to set up spending notifications on your gohenry app, so you’ll be notified of every transaction. You can also set spending rules and limits if there’s a risk they’ll get carried away. To absolutely guarantee that your child can’t make any in-game purchases, you can set a rule that their gohenry card can’t be used online — although they’re more likely to learn good money management skills if you allow them to make their own spending decisions — even if they do make a few mistakes in the process.