19th July 2022

Loot boxes and gambling

The Children’s Commissioner has been looking at children’s online safety after a commission from Government. Throughout this work we have listened to children and parents in order to understand their views and concerns about safety, across all the platforms children spend time on.

Online games occupy a significant part of most children’s daily lives – it is estimated that 93% of children in the UK play video games. Therefore it is concerning that some online games contain inappropriate features such as loot boxes, which promote harmful behaviours among children.

Loot boxes are elements of online games which allow players to spend real money to unlock unknown virtual rewards – such as particular characters, weapons or other items which may either be cosmetic or help players succeed in a game. The Children’s Commissioner’s Office has previously reported on how loot box features can encourage children to spend excessively online to advance to further stages of games. Children have told us that buying loot boxes feels like gambling, and they worry about the impact of loot boxes on encouraging compulsive spending.

Yesterday, the Government published its response to its consultation on loot boxes in which it announced that it will not take legislative action on these in-game features. Published alongside this, the Government’s review found evidence of a “stable and consistent” association between loot box use and problem gambling.

The Children’s Commissioner believes that the Government should listen to children and parents to take firm action to prevent under-18s from buying loot boxes. Relying on voluntary industry action and on parental controls will leave many children exposed to the financial and psychological harms of loot boxes.

This is concerning, as often the odds of receiving the desired reward from a loot box are low – e.g. the probability of receiving a FIFA Gold 84+ Player can be as little as 4.2%. This can lead to children entering a cycle of uncontrolled spending as they attempt to chase losses.

The current legal definition of gambling, under the Gambling Act 2005, falls short of capturing loot boxes, as the prize cannot be converted into real-world money. Clause 6 of the Gambling Act should be expanded to capture loot boxes, bringing them into the scope of regulation.

The Commissioner will follow this issue closely, including by reflecting children’s views and concerns.