Are video games turning your child into a gambler? Nine things you need to know
by Jackie A
4 weeks ago
Loot boxes are the problem
What the heck are they, you might ask? Think of them as treasure chests. Shooter games like Overwatch give the gamer a better chance of winning if they buy a loot box containing special weapons or armour. But until the player opens the loot box, they don't know if they'll get a diamond or a dud. They could spend £10 and get a really game-winning weapon. Or spend £100 and get nothing useful. Kind of like feeding money into a slot machine.
British kids spend £270m on gambling loot boxes every year
According to a study last year by The Safer Online Gambling Group, half of the 500 children between 11 and 18 surveyed had used a loot box recently, spending on average between £500 and £600 per year. That's a hell of a lot of pocket money.
British politicians are mad with the gaming industry for turning kids into gamblers
Last week the results of an inquiry called for an entire ban on "addictive" loot boxes aimed at children, following a wide-ranging inquiry pointing the finger at the "manipulative, unsafe, and otherwise uncouth business practices" of the gaming industry. It also called for the government to regulate the purchase of loot boxes for all other players under the Gambling Act. The Belgium and Netherlands governments have already banned loot boxes, while China has restricted the number of loot boxes players can open each day and Sweden is also investigating them.
The gaming industry is unrepentant about making money in this predatory way
The select committee concluded it was difficult to get "full and clear answers" from the gaming industry representatives who had appeared before them. They were secretive about what data was collected from consumers, how it was used and the psychology underpinning how games were designed. But the MPs found the industry was reluctant to accept responsibility for intervening when a player was over-spending or even to put a figure on how much was too much. Dr. Jo Twist, the chief executive of UK Interactive Entertainment, brazenly said: "The video games industry has always, and will continue to, put the welfare of players at the heart of what we do." I mean.
One gaming exec said loot boxes were as innocuous as buying chocolate Kinder eggs
That's how Kerry Hopkins, vice president of EA games, described them. She failed to say that at least when you buy a Kinder egg you are guaranteed some chocolate. Hopkins went on to call loot boxes "quite ethical and fun [and] enjoyable to people." Which she would do considering Electronic Arts reported a $5.1 billion revenue for 2018. It is little wonder the committee called some of them "willfully obtuse," having heard from Jagex, the company behind online game RuneScape, that players could spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month. Major games ranging from FIFA to Overwatch now rely on loot boxes for the vast majority of their revenue these days, despite the fact that they can come at a high cost to players.
The Americans are going after loot boxes now
In May, fresh-faced Senator Josh Hawley, 39, formally introduced his bill to ban the sale of loot boxes to children. Hawley’s Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would also make it unlawful for children's games to include pay-to-win mechanics. Just new to the job, Hawley has already built up a reputation as a tough critic of Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google. A man to watch.
A study has shown a link between children using loot boxes and problem adult gambling
Last year a study of more than 7,400 gamers by the universities of York and York St. John revealed children who play computer games offering randomised rewards might be more prone to adult gambling. Researchers established a “significant relationship” between gambling addiction and loot boxes and that used in popular titles such as Rocket League and Overwatch, they “may well be acting as a ‘gateway’ to problem gambling.”
"Gaming Disorder" is now officially listed by the World Health Authority as an illness
Last year the WHO described it as "a pattern of behaviour where priority is given to gaming over all other activities" despite the negative consequences it might be having on that person's health and life. Countries such as China and South Korea currently have a big problem with gaming disorder.
Never, ever give your bank card details to a child gamer
Almost all the money wasted on loot boxes comes from the bank of Mum and Dad. Often fraudulently via the child. Online chat rooms are filled with headlines like these: "Basketball game cost our family £2,000," "My 16-year-old son spent nearly £2,000 of my money on EA's NBA basketball game," "He used my bank card and I didn't realise until I had a payment declined," "He doesn't have Fortnite any more... and my car will be clean for the next 15 years!" and my favourite tweet: "My 4-year old grandson downloaded an app and payed for it with his mother's credit card." Not sure how a four year old could manage that, but you get the gist.
Because those gaming companies — they're never going to refund you the money.
This year will see the global gaming market hit revenues of $152.1 billion, an increase of 9.6% from 2018. And if you don't become a gambling addict, video gaming could actually get you a better job. Apparently.