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What are loot boxes?

 

Continuing with Parent Zone’s #LetsTalkAboutGambling campaign, staff writer Yusuf Tamanna explains to parents what loot boxes are in the context of online gaming, whether they are considered gambling and what parents can do.

 

What is a loot box?

In the game Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) players fight with terrorists to try to save hostages in the middle of war-torn countries. During the game they come across loot boxes, also known as loot crates, which contain in-game items varying in rarity, similar to a treasure chest. The boxes usually include unique skins, which are costumes players can apply to make their character, weapons and armour more aesthetically pleasing.

The treasure chests are designed to offer players a way to enhance their experience of playing the game and the contents of the box can only be accessed through extensive hours of gameplay that can earn you points or paying a fee.

The game Overwatch offers players the chance to buy loot boxes in randomised bundles with prices starting at £1.50 for two loot boxes going up to £30 for 50 boxes. But when a player purchases each bundle they’re not paying for the items within the loot box, but rather the chance of getting something worth using in the game. The probability of a player’s loot box containing anything of actual value is not shown and so there is no idea of knowing the odds of winning.

 

Loot boxes (including the main image) on offer in the game Overwatch. [source:clubittv]

Are loot boxes gambling?

In 2017, the video game Star Wars Battlefront 2 was criticised after it required players to unlock key Star Wars characters and access loot boxes through credit, either attained by hours of playing the game or paying for it.

A poster campaign on Reddit against loot boxes. [source: Reddit]

Many consider this gambling as players are using real money to make microtransactions based on chance.

The Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) rating system, which is responsible for assigning age and content rating for video games, said it was the responsibility of the UK Gambling Commission to decide whether loot boxes were a form of gambling.

America’s Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) also said that due to the voluntary nature of loot boxes it doesn’t consider loot boxes to be a form of gambling.

In 2017 the UK Gambling Commission said loot boxes do not qualify as gambling under current British law, but it warned that the lines between gambling and gaming are becoming increasingly blurred and that parents should be proactive in protecting children from the risks of gaming online.

As a way to tackle the issue in December 2017, Apple ordered games within the App Store that offer loot boxes to disclose the odds of a player getting different items. However, this doesn’t extend to games such as Dota 2, CS:GO and Overwatch as they’re not iOS games. 

What can parents do?

  • Investigate whether the games your child is playing include loot boxes.
  • Turn off in-app purchases on games and make sure a credit or debit card isn’t attached to the console they’re playing on.
  • Speak to your child and explain to them that loot boxes are designed to entice players to spend hours playing the game and spend money. Most games can still be played and completed without using loot boxes.

Further reading:

What is skin gambling?

How to talk to your child about gambling.

Online gambling glossary.

Is my child addicted to online gaming?