Children’s Commissioner Calls for Loot Boxes to be Classified as Gambling

Children’s Commissioner Calls for Loot Boxes to be Classified as Gambling

93% of young people in the UK play online games, and ‘loot boxes’ will be an integral part of their experience. These are digital ‘grab bags’, a sort of lucky dip, which cost real money. They promise players additional equipment, or characters but the value of what you receive is pure chance. Loot boxes can become addictive as players spend more and more to get the ‘prize’ they’re after.

Children’s Commissioner Report – ‘Gaming the System’

The Commissioner’s report, is based on conversations with young children aged between 10-16. It finds that there are a number of clear positives for children playing online games. Quite apart from the fun involved, they appreciate the opportunity to socialise, and learn new skills. There’s acknowledgement, too, of the negative potential for online play. Children cite bullying, teasing and being mocked for not having the money to buy add-ons.

The Monetisation of Gaming

The report notes that the monetisation of gaming is now factored into the design of many online games. Often this is presented as the opportunity to advance more quickly, dependent on the money you have to spend. Children acknowledged in conversation that they felt pressured to spend money when gaming. The annual spend has increased, with some young people spending up to £300.

Protective Measures Required for Young People

The report’s findings have led the Commissioner to call for tighter legislation in order to protect young people. Many of the children they spoke to recognised that some of the loot box practices were similar to gambling, and that this made them lose control of their spending. A number of recommendations have been made by the Commissioner as a result:

  • Gaming progress should not be linked to spending
  • Introduction of default maximum daily spend for children
  • Loot boxes should be classified as gambling in section 6 of Gambling Act 2005
  • Online games should be subject to legally enforceable age-rating system
  • Discussion of online games to be included as a key component in digital citizenship lessons

Online Gaming Requires Same Attention as Social Media

A senior policy analyst at the Children’s Commissioner’s Office noted that social media tends to grab the headlines when it comes to discussion of online harms. She suggests that online gaming requires equal consideration, given the potential impact it can have:

“As the Government continues to develop its online harms proposals, it is vital that the particular nature of online games is addressed and that the duty of care protects all children online, across all the platforms they spend time on.”

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