A new report dubbed ‘Gaming the System‘ by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, finds that children are ‘pressured’ into loot boxes and micro-transactions when gaming.
The report explores the impact of video games on children. It calls for stricter laws and regulations as a way to protect young gamers from the monetization systems that define many modern games.
Longfield calls explicitly for loot boxes to be classified as a form of gambling;
The Government should take immediate action to amend the definition of gaming in section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 to regulate loot boxes as gambling.
Honing in on games such as Fortnite, FIFA, and Roblox, researchers questioned participants aged 10 to 16 years of age. In particular, about the positives and negatives of their own gaming experiences.
Many lauded the social aspects of online gaming, notably in fostering friendships. However, responses raised concerns around peer-pressure and a sense of having to keep up with the Joneses. Children feel forced to spend money in games to adhere to perceived social standards seeping in from the real world.
Children are scorned in games such as Fortnite if they are seen to wear the ‘default skin’ (the free avatar they receive at the start of the game). Children say they feel embarrassed if they cannot afford new ‘skins’ because then their friends see them as poor.
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.
Others pinpointed the inherent similarities between loot boxes and gambling, as well their addictive qualities. A feeling mirrored by adults. One 14 year old said;
I never get anything out of it [buying FIFA packs], but I still do it.
While the report acknowledges that gaming is a digital extension of play, it says regulation is imperative for protecting children. Recommendations fielded by the report range from features to track and limit spending on loot boxes. As well as an enforceable age-rating system for online games, and educational ‘digital citizenship’ programs in schools.