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

Parent Zone's latest report*, The Rip-Off Games, found that almost three-quarters of children say that online games try to make you spend as much money as possible.

Most children are affected. 93% of 10-16-year-olds play online games regularly. 76% of them say games try to get them to spend money all the time, and almost half (49%) that online games are only fun when they do spend money.

Parent Zone carried out quantitative research with Ipsos MORI and qualitative research online with gamers and groups of young people to compile the report. 

We found that the business model has changed since the early days of gaming. Children are now being enticed not only to keep on playing but also to keep on paying.

Psychological techniques borrowed from the gambling industry and used to modify behaviour elsewhere on the internet are being used to tempt children to spend.

Loot boxes - where players buy unseen items, as in a lottery - are a particular concern because of their similarity to gambling. They have been classed as gambling in some other countries.

Vicki Shotbolt, Parent Zone CEO, says: ‘Parents need to be better informed about the transactions and microtransactions that children are being prodded to make in the course of play. They need to be alert to the psychological techniques that are being used.’

Parent Zone recommends:

  • Policymakers should look at flagging games in which spending is required to make progress. They should consider age verification and parental consent for in-game spending.
  • Further research is needed into the links between gaming and gambling, especially when it comes to loot boxes, which come under gambling legislation in some countries but not in the UK.

Gaming is important to the UK economy and an important aspect of the creative industries - and Parent Zone believes that games designers, publishers and platforms should be rewarded for their efforts. But not at the expense of exploiting children and the most vulnerable.

Read the report



Independent research 

Parent Zone has been leading the discussion about children and young people’s safety in gaming.

*Parent Zone research, reports and policy responses are developed and funded directly by Parent Zone and are entirely independent of any other projects.