Online video games that let children buy extras in 'loot boxes' should be classified as gambling, says watchdog
- Game extras 'can lead to children losing control of spending and chasing losses'
- Study says that some children feel addicted and cannot get away from screens
- Watchdog report calls for spending restrictions for games which children play
Online games that charge children money should be treated in the same way as full-blown gambling websites, a watchdog said yesterday.
The games can cost children hundreds of pounds, and in some cases those who pay large sums are gambling on what advantages they will get to help them win or get to a higher level, a report said.
It warned that ‘loot boxes’, in which players pay for unknown and randomised game tools, can lead to children losing control of spending and chasing losses in the same way as gambling addicts.
The report said that some children feel addicted to games and cannot haul themselves away from their screens. It said young children often play games for two to three hours a day, and older children for more than three hours
The report from Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said loot boxes in games such as FIFA should be classed as gambling under reforms of the Gambling Act.
It also called for spending restrictions in games which children can play.
Miss Longfield said: ‘Playing games online can be rewarding and exciting and help children to develop strategic skills and friendships, but they are also open to exploitation by games companies, who play on their need to keep up with friends and to advance to further stages of a game by encouraging children to spend on loot boxes.
‘Children have told us they worry they are gambling when they buy loot boxes, and it is clear some children are spending hundreds of pounds chasing their losses. I want the Government to classify loot boxes in games like FIFA as a form of gambling. A maximum daily spend limit for children would also be reassuring for parents and children themselves.’
The report said 93 per cent of children play video games, and praised the games not only as sources of enjoyment but as an aid to planning, teamwork and creative skills.
But it pointed to the problems generated by the system in which children are pressured to pay to get on in the game, or to keep up with friends.
In the FIFA football game, children who buy loot boxes know their chances of getting a valuable player are low, but they spend anyway, and some end up spending too much and chasing losses.
The report added that some children feel addicted to games and cannot haul themselves away from their screens.
It said young children often play games for two to three hours a day, and older children for more than three hours.
The report from Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said loot boxes in games such as FIFA should be classed as gambling under reforms of the Gambling Act. It also called for spending restrictions in games which children can play
Because games are linked to friendships, some children feel pressured to continue playing to maintain friendships.
Miss Longfield said the Government’s promised Online Harms Bill should prevent games from charging children for the chance of progress. There should be spending caps and restrictions in any game they can play, she added.
Simone Vibert, of the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, said: ‘For too long policy-makers have focused their attention on the social media giants.
‘This research shows that for many children, online gaming is just as important in their lives and poses a distinct set of benefits and risks.
‘It is striking to hear children say that what they sometimes participate in looks and feels like gambling and that they don’t always feel able to control the amount of time they spend online playing.’