With the rise of gaming among children over the recent years, concerns surrounding screen time and exposure to age appropriate material have filled the pages of news reports. However, more recently there has been criticism of gaming in its role in facilitating gambling like behavior among young people via ‘loot boxes’.  As gaming enters the mainstream media world for kids across the globe and they are exposed to more advertising and new ways of enhancing game-play, there is likely to be a call to action to regulate purchasing within this popular pass-time.

In the last few weeks, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the House of Lords have stated that in-game features such as ‘loot boxes’ could be reclassified as gambling products over increasing concerns that they encourage children to gamble.[1] Loot boxes can be purchased within video games, either for in-game currency or real money, and in return players are given random rewards such as new character skins, special game items and other in-game accessories. Mainstream games such as ‘Fifa’, ‘Fortnite’ and ‘Overwatch’ all offer loot box purchases to their audience. Not only can children purchase loot boxes for these virtual rewards but they can trade them with other players for actual money.

This trade of money for unknown rewards has questioned whether it is a form of gambling and therefore has warranted a review under the 2005 Gambling Act. Loot boxes have already been deemed gambling products in other markets such as Belgium, with the fear that it will lead young people to develop an addiction to gambling.[2] They have been seen as encouraging children to keep purchasing until they receive the special items that they want, much in the same way a gambler chases their losses. Recent research by universities and the Gambling Commission has shown that 1 in 25 school pupils is now a problem gambler or at risk of becoming one, which is double the figure since 2017. This has resulted in the NHS opening a specialist clinic solely for teenage addicts.[3]

Utilising insights from our in-house syndicated tracking study, Little Voices, where we speak to 550 kids aged 2 to 12, we found that 1 in 5 children aged 2012 had purchased a loot box earlier this year.[4] This number then increases to 31% of 11-16 year olds who had also purchased.[5] On average, kids aged 2-12 were spending £12 of their pocket money on these gaming features.[6] With 71% of main title games on gaming platform Stream now featuring loot boxes, compared to only 4% nearly a decade ago, the growth of these purchases has been substantial.[7] It is estimated that their value in the video games industry is at £23 billion a year.[8]

With the rise of loot box purchases and problem gambling amongst children, official bodies have started to investigate whether they are intrinsically linked. If loot boxes are classified as gambling products, this will have a tremendous impact on gaming developers who will need to reconsider and redesign video games so they can be sold to the under 18 audience. Not only will it demand an overhaul of in-gaming purchases, but will fuel the already burning fire of parental concerns around gaming.

Gaming developers will need to consider the impact and implications if loot boxes are regulated and deemed gambling products, with some companies already beginning to change the way their gaming systems work. With immediate calls by ministers to put this legislation into effect, the gaming industry may be affected sooner than we realise.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/jun/07/uk-could-class-loot-boxes-as-gambling-to-protect-children

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53253195

[3] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-8455927/Is-child-addicted-gambling.html

[4] Giraffe Insights, Little Voices Tracker, Wave 1 February 2020

[5] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-8455927/Is-child-addicted-gambling.html

[6] Giraffe Insights, Little Voices Tracker, Wave 1 February 2020

[7] https://www.businessinsider.com/classifying-video-game-loot-boxes-as-gambling-2020-7?r=US&IR=T

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/jun/07/uk-could-class-loot-boxes-as-gambling-to-protect-children

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