The UK’s Gambling Commission has cited video game loot boxes as one of the reasons for a rise in children classified as having a gambling problem. In the last two years, the number of children with gambling problems has quadrupled, with more than 50,000 children in the UK being classed as being problem gamblers.
Loot boxes have become a controversial and often criticized mechanic within video gaming. High profile games such as Star Wars Battlefront II have made use of the system, whereby players can pay with real-world money to receive a random item in-game, often with outrageously high odds of receiving a rare item as seen with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Loot boxes have been compared to gambling because of this – after all, although a ‘reward’ is always received, it’s rarely the one that users will be hoping for.
Now, the Gambling Commission has revealed some concerning figures regarding the level of gambling seen in the United Kingdom via a new report. Along with the worrying number of children seen as having a gambling problem, 39% of 11-16 year olds have reportedly spent their own money on gambling in the last year, with 14% spending their own money on gambling in the past week. That puts it at a higher rate than those who had drunk alcohol, smoked cigarettes, or taken illegal drugs.
The report suggests a connection between the use of loot boxes by children and the larger trend in gambling as a whole, with 31% of young people stating that they had used money or in-game items to open loot boxes to get other in-game items. On top of this, 3% claimed to have taken part in skins gambling, a form of gambling with in-game items that has taken root in online titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Meanwhile, online gambling games that look like real-world gambling such as roulette or poker are also being used, with 13% of 11-16 year olds using these online gambling methods.
Of course, loot boxes are not alone in this increase in gambling problems in children. The ease of access to gambling in general has been expanded as online gambling becomes more prevalent, while gambling advertisements during sporting events such as Premier League football matches have also been blamed for this rise. That said, the ethicality of loot boxes has once again been called into question.
Exactly what can be done about this problem remains to be seen, and it’s fair to say that restrictions on gambling adverts and a rethink of how easy it is for teenagers to access gambling apps may take priority here. However, with games such as FIFA remaining hugely popular in the UK with young people, there should perhaps be a greater emphasis on whether loot box mechanics should be included in games that are regularly played by those under 18.