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Parents forced to remortgage to cover gamers’ loot box debts

Written by: Emma Lunn
Research from the Gambling Health Alliance (GHA) found that almost one in six (15%) young gamers had taken money from their parents without their permission to buy loots boxes.

The alliance claimed that in three of the worst cases young gamers’ loot box buying habits had resulted in their families having to remortgage their homes to cover the costs.

Loot boxes are in-game containers bought with either virtual or real-world currency that award players with random virtual items. Players can use these items to improve their playing experience or for cosmetic upgrades to their character’s appearance.

A survey by the GHA found that on top of the purchase price of the game, which is on average £35, almost one in four (22%) respondents spent more than £100 on loot boxes over the course of completing a game.

One in 10 (11%) young gamers had used their parents’ credit or debit card to fund their loot box purchases, while 9% had borrowed money they couldn’t repay.

Many respondents felt loot boxes damaged their gaming experience, citing a number of factors.

Some claimed it was impossible to play certain games competitively without spending heavily on loot boxes. Others said the odds of getting valuable items were incredibly low, leaving them feeling frustrated and ripped off.

Respondents also said that the features surrounding loot boxes, as well as the purpose they served in the game, made them especially addictive.

Duncan Stephenson, chair of the GHA, said: “We know that many teenagers will be unwrapping video games for Christmas, and while we know they give a huge amount of enjoyment for many, we are concerned that games containing loot boxes are having an impact on the finances of young people.

“While this is a small survey of gamers, our research suggests that the drive to play games containing loot boxes is encouraging many to beg, borrow and steal – loot boxes really are the gift that keeps on taking. Aside from the financial cost our latest survey with gamers suggests that the fixation with loot boxes can lead to classic symptoms of addiction including mood swings, problems sleeping, and impacting on their social life.

“We are calling for parents to be aware of the risks of loot boxes when buying presents this Christmas, and to boycott games with these predatory mechanics until we see them classified as a form of gambling and removed from games played by under 18s.”

In September, government ministers launched a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes and will examine whether they encourage gambling.

Geraldine Bedell, executive editor of Parent Zone, said: “Parent Zone strongly backs the GHA’s call for loot boxes to be classified as gambling. Our research, like theirs, points to the exploitation of children by gambling-like mechanisms in online games, and the use of psychological techniques drawn from gambling. Risks are being taken with the future of young people, who are being taught to gamble.”

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