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Games to get loot box warnings following Parent Zone campaign

Video game ratings in the UK and the rest of Europe will now carry a warning if a game contains loot boxes and other random paid-for items.

There has been a generically assigned label to video games with in-game purchase items since September 2018, but publishers will now be required to provide additional information regarding the nature of in-game purchases and feature them on a new warning label, the gaming regulator PEGI announced this week.

The change follows the publication of Parent Zone’s Rip-Off Games report, which included extensive research into how the new business model of online gaming exploits children. It found that almost half of children (49 per cent) only find online games fun when they spend money.

PEGI defines random paid-for items as: “In-game offers [enticing you to] purchase digital goods or premiums where players don’t know exactly what they are getting prior to the purchase”.

Loot boxes – mystery objects in treasure chests that players pay to open – are one of the most controversial elements in modern games. A massive $30bn (£24bn) was spent on them worldwide in 2018, and that figure is expected to rise to $50bn (£40bn) in the next five years.

The Rip-Off Games explains how some researchers have concluded that loot boxes are themselves a form of gambling. And to illustrate the scale of the issue, 91 per cent of children said loot boxes are available in the games they play, 76 per cent believe that online video games try to make you spend as much money as possible, and 40 per cent have paid to open one.

Parent Zone’s earlier report into Skin Gambling, meanwhile, found that skins – virtual items that can be won or purchased – have developed unique values based on market demands. Third-party websites are set up to support the trading of skins, and may offer additional jackpot options for skin betting, including games such as roulette and coin tosses. 

Parent Zone’s founder and CEO Vicki Shotbolt said: “Adding warnings to games ratings about loot boxes is a welcome step, but it doesn't address the very real concern that loot boxes are introducing children to gambling-like behaviours.

“We hope that this will not be a simple step that misses the far more important leap that needs to be taken to recognise the financial risks that children are navigating in games.”


The Rip-Off Games: How the new business model of online gaming exploits children

What are loot boxes?

Skin gambling: teenage Britain’s secret habit