Loot boxes containing items with gameplay bonuses without limits on player spend constitute ‘financial harm’, as stated by a report from the Children’s Commissioner of England and research body Revealing Reality (via VGC).
The report is titled ‘Gaming the system’, and interviewed children and young people who play games like Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite, and FIFA on how they engage with the online features to these popular games. Nowadays, children are less likely to play outside of the home due to concerns about safety and online gaming lets friends socialise and build relationships in these games. The interviewees said that they’d get frustrated if they couldn’t play for a long period of time, and some said they don’t realise time passing once they’re settled with a game.
In addition, the report found that children experienced bullying and mockery in the online game if they use a default avatar. ‘If you’re a default skin, people think you’re trash,’ one 10-year-old Fortnite player recalled. With in-game purchases, children said they felt influenced to spend by their friends, online players, and famous streamers. They recognised there were risks to loot box systems, in that repeated purchases did not raise the likelihood of receiving the item they want or an item that helps out in-game.
However, children felt like they had to ‘chase losses’ and that their spending snowballs out of their control. ‘It’s like gambling – you could lose your money and not get anyone good, or get someone really good,’ a FIFA player explained and another admitted, ‘it’s a waste of money… and then you open more [packs].’
Because children’s digital presences are an extension of their wants and needs in reality, the Children’s Commissioner has recommended that loot boxes be considered a form of gambling. ‘Adults who gamble often tend to have boundaries and control measures in place to mitigate against harm,’ the report reasoned. ‘Children are unlikely to be able to put these in place for themselves.’
The ‘urgent action’ suggested by the report includes limiting the importance of microtransactions in games played by children due to the potential for ‘financial harm’. Purchasable in-game items should serve a cosmetic purpose and should not offer any gameplay advantage, and maximum daily spend limits should be implemented. Players should be shown their historic spend on the game, and the UK government should place loot boxes under established gambling regulations.
A video published by the Children’s Commissioner and Revealing Reality summarising the report’s findings is below.