New research from the GHA has found that:  

  • Almost one in six (15%) young gamers had taken money from their parents without their permission to buy loots boxes;
  • One in ten (11%) had used their parents’ credit or debit card to fund their loot box purchases;
  • One in ten (9%) had borrowed money they couldn’t repay to spend on loot boxes;
  • Three young gamers’ loot box buying habits resulted in their families having to re-mortgage their homes to cover the costs.

On top of the purchase price of the game, which is on average £35, almost one in four (22%) respondents spent over £100 on loot boxes over the course of completing a game, suggesting young people are being set on a path to an expensive and potentially addictive habit this Christmas. 

Many respondents felt loot boxes damaged their gaming experience, citing a number of factors, including:

  • the games were ‘play to win’ - without spending heavily on loot boxes, it was impossible to play competitively;
  • that the odds of getting valuable items were incredibly low, leaving them feeling frustrated and ripped off;
  • the features surrounding the loot boxes, as well as the purpose they served in the game, made them especially addictive.

Duncan Stephenson, Chair of the GHA and Deputy Chief Executive of RSPH, said:

“We know that many teenagers will be unwrapping video games for Christmas, and while we know they give a huge amount of enjoyment for many, we are concerned that games containing loot boxes are having an impact on the finances of young people.  

While this is a small survey of gamers, our research suggests that the drive to play games containing loot boxes is encouraging many to beg, borrow and steal – loot boxes really are the gift that keeps on taking.  Aside from the financial cost our latest survey with gamers suggests that the fixation with loot boxes can lead to classic symptoms of addiction including mood swings, problems sleeping, and impacting on their social life.

We are calling for parents to be aware of the risks of loot boxes when buying presents this Christmas, and to boycott games with these predatory mechanics until we see them classified as a form of gambling and removed from games played by under 18s.”

Geraldine Bedell, Executive Editor, Parent Zone, said:

“Parent Zone strongly backs the GHA’s call for loot boxes to be classified as gambling. Our research, like theirs, points to the exploitation of children by gambling-like mechanisms in online games, and the use of psychological techniques drawn from gambling. Risks are being taken with the future of young people, who are being taught to gamble.”

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:

“Children should be able to enjoy gaming safely, without being led down a destructive path towards addiction and gambling. Gaming developers are using techniques that reward children for spending more and more time and money on their platforms, increasing the risk of addiction and related mental health problems. The gaming industry must commit to incorporating stronger child safety features into their products so children are protected from the dangers of online gaming. The Government must then commit to holding the industry to account.”

The vast majority of young people made the connection between buying loot boxes and gambling, with 91% of survey respondents agreeing that loot boxes should be classified as a form of gambling and three in four (76%) saying that loot boxes should be illegal for under 18s to buy. Gamers also thought they could be a gateway to other forms of gambling, with two in five (41%) agreeing that spending money on a loot box before the age of 18 would make someone more likely to gamble when older.

In line with the views of young gamers, therefore, the GHA is campaigning for paid-for loot boxes to be legally classified as gambling and banned in games for under 18s. The 2005 Gambling Act is currently being reviewed by the Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently consulted on the impact of loot boxes in video games. In response to these consultations, the GHA is asking for the Government to take a public health approach to gambling by protecting the young and vulnerable from the harms of gambling products, de-normalising gambling and reducing exposure to gambling, and investing in research, treatment and education.

About the survey

Between 29th October and 16th November 2020, data was collected from 611 respondents aged 13 to 24 living in England, Scotland and Wales. The survey sought to understand loot box purchasing habits, and the impact of loot boxes on health and wellbeing. It was conducted through Survey Monkey and promoted through social media, Reddit, and email marketing to previous RSPH survey respondents.