Lockdown society could accelerate “loot-box” spending

It was announced in April that video game regulator PEGI would force games publishers to include information on in-game purchases, in a bid to crack down on a potentially exploitative industry which will be worth more than £34 billion by 2022 – according to tech analysts Juniper Research.

Many critics have viewed this move by regulators as “too little, too late”. A new survey conducted by Overtime suggests that video gamers purchasing of “loot boxes” – or randomised in-game items – could be affected by the “stay at home” measures currently in place in many countries across the world.

In the survey of 70 FIFA players, over 44% indicated that they are more likely to spend money on FIFA Points – in-game currency used to buy loot boxes – since the start of the “stay at home” measures.

Belgium became the first country in the world to ban the sale of loot boxes outright after the country’s Gaming Commission found them to be in violation of gambling legislation. UK legislators have refused to take similar action, arguing that the rewards gained from loot boxes could not be swapped for “real cash”.

The survey reveals that 77% of FIFA users have bought loot boxes, with 64% of all respondents falling into the 16-24 age bracket – a demographic found to have the most chance of developing “problem gambling” habits in the UK Gambling Commission’s 2016 England Health Survey, with 8.1% of all 16-24 year-olds found to be “at risk”.

A factor potentially exacerbating the issue is the prominence of “YouTubers” – online content creators who often broadcast the opening of “loot boxes” en-masse, sometimes spending up to £50,000 at a time. One such creator is “Castro1021”, a FIFA streamer who regularly reaches live audiences of above 30,000 – with a huge percentage of minors. 

Shirley Cramer CBE, the Royal Society for Public Health’s chief executive said:

“The rise of loot boxes and skin betting have seen young people introduced to the same mechanisms that underpin gambling, through an industry that operates unchecked and unregulated on the back alleys of the internet, which young people can access from their bedrooms.

“As with any public health issue, this is one that requires a combination of measures focusing on both education and regulation. Young people are not universally opposed to gambling and gambling-like activity; they simply want to be able to recognise where it appears in their lives and to make an informed decision as to whether to avoid it altogether, or to participate in a way that lowers the stakes for their health and wellbeing.”

The survey appears to concur with Cramer, with 85% of responders stating that they would support their respective governments in taking a similar stance to Belgium’s “no tolerance” policy. 75% also acknowledged the dangers involved with the sale of loot boxes, suggesting that players under 18 should be prohibited from making in-game purchases.   

As more and more games publishers introduce in-game purchases to their content in an attempt to reap the rewards of this brand-new multi-billion-pound industry, it remains to be seen whether UK and US governments are willing to follow in the footsteps of Belgium to properly regulate this growing problem.

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