Loot boxes cause “financial and emotional harm” to children

UK Government loot boxes

New research from UK universities shows that loot boxes cause “financial and emotional harm” to children.

A new report, from Newcastle and Loughborough Universities, said that the “highly alluring” items being advertised to them while gaming was leading to an inability to track their spending.

It went on to recommend that loot boxes be restricted for sale to under 18s, and digital currencies within them be replaced by actual currency.

The report stated: “There are clear parallels between the visual and auditory design of chance-based mechanisms in digital games and the design of regulated gambling machines and systems.

“For example, we encountered slots and spinning wheels in many digital games played by children and young people as part of our empirical research. Many of these gambling-style mechanisms portray ‘near misses’, where the game gives the player the illusion that they have just missed out on an item – an item typically of a higher rarity or value in the game. We know that for some children and young people, this led them to spend more money on loot boxes in the game than they had initially intended.”

UK Government loot boxes
Apex Legends. Credit: Respawn Entertainment

Earlier this year, the UK government warned the video game industry that it needs to crack down on how it treats loot boxes, or it’ll be met with legislation tightening up the issue.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has found a link between problem gambling and loot boxes in games, and it has called for game companies to step and “improve protections” for children in a new press release.

These findings follow a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes by the UK government back in 2020, with this release now calling for the in-game purchases to be made unavailable to children unless approved by a parent or guardian. More specifically, Xbox’s parental controls were mentioned, with the government wanting to build on protections like this, otherwise legislation will be considered.

However, a new study from this August claimed that a country-wide ban on loot boxes isn’t “practically achievable”. It comes after it was found that the Belgian law passed in 2018, ruling loot boxes as a form of gambling and therefore illegal, wasn’t being enforced.

The inclusion of loot boxes in games is expected to generate around $20billion (£14.4billion) in revenue by 2025, according to one report.

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