The children’s commissioner for England has recently called on Government to regulate loot boxes as a form of gambling. In a report published with the title ‘Gaming the System’, research on the effects of gaming on young people found that despite the positive effects of online gaming, particularly in the social aspect, there are some serious concerns around time and money spent in online gaming.
Children aged 10 to 16 were interviewed for the study, and they recognised some of the issues with their gambling habits. One of these interviewees was a 16-year-old FIFA player who said that loot boxes really were like gambling. “You could lose your money and not get anyone good, or get someone really good,” he said.
A 10-year-old Fortnite player also shared her fear of being seen as “trash” by other players simply because she was using a default skin. In reaction to this, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield condemned these marketing tactics, which she says leave kids “open to exploitation by games companies who play on their need to keep up with friends and to advance to further stages of a game.”
“With 93% of children in the UK playing video games, it is vital that the enjoyment they get comes with tighter rules that protect them from straying into gambling,” Longfield said. “Children have told us they worry they are gambling when they buy loot boxes, and it’s clear some children are spending hundreds of pounds chasing their losses. I want the Government to classify loot boxes in games like FIFA as a form of gambling. A maximum daily spend limit for children would also be reassuring for parents and children themselves.”
Following the report, the children’s commissioner also suggested for all games to include a feature that allows players to track their spending. There has also been a proposal for online games to be “subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, just as physical games are,” with additional warnings indicating that these games include in-game spending.
Essentially, the commissioner’s recommendations seem to focus on the importance of kids, parents, and companies understanding how significant the role of online gaming can be in the life of young people, and how things such as loot boxes remain largely unregulated in the United Kingdom.
UKIE, the UK games industry trade body, is already facilitating workshops and running schemes in schools across the country in hopes of better informing children and parents about the benefits and dangers of online gaming. The body said it welcomes more research “to promote these messages and encourage digital literacy across all age groups.”
UKIE CEO Dr. Jo Twist OBE has this to say: “The report shows how important online play is to children’s lives and how games bring children together, spark creativity and equip them with vital skills for a digital age. We recognise the need to educate players, parents, and carers about safe and sensible play habits and for the industry to take an appropriate role in doing so.”
In response, a government spokesperson said: “Video games can be enjoyed by children safely as part of a healthy lifestyle and we encourage parents to use built-in controls to set spending and time limits. But we are clear children must always be protected from harm, and we will carefully consider the concerns raised in this report in relation to excessive or gambling-like behaviour.”