Chances are that your child’s favorite mobile or console game is teaching them to gamble. Some countries have stepped in to make this practice illegal, but it is still an accepted practice within the gaming world. What is this practice? Welcome to the world of loot boxes.
To first understand loot boxes, you need to understand that the way game developers make money has had a seismic shift in the past decade. Earlier this week we talked about the Freemium model of gaming and how game developers are using in-app purchases over an initial cost for purchasing a game.
One of the common in-app purchases is a “loot box”. This allows the player to get a random item from a pool of items. In most cases (like the image below), the player will know about the best item in the pool, although there is a very small chance that the player will actually get that specific item.
This kind of behavior leads players to purchase a loot box over and over again attempting to get better items. Many games offer loot boxes for purchase with the game’s currency, but in most cases players can purchase additional currency with real money through in-app purchases.
If you look at this concept and say “that looks a lot like gambling”, you aren’t alone. Minnesota introduced a bill to clearly call this gambling, Australia passed a motion to investigate this overall practice, and both Belgium and the Netherlands have declared this a type of illegal gambling.
Behavioral psychologists have also taken a look at this practice. A recent paper published in Nature Human Behavior confirmed the psychological correlation of this practice to gambling. It stated that these examples “meet the structural and psychological criteria for gambling”.
What To Do
So what do you do to deal with loot boxes? The first step may seem a bit unusual. If your child is playing a game regularly either on a console (Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, etc…) or a mobile device, you should spend a bit of time playing that game. This will help you understand the overall experience as well as what the game is presenting your child with.
In this way, you can understand how the game is presenting options for advancement through in-app purchases like loot boxes. This will then open the door for you to have a conversation with your child about these types of purchases and how they might not be a wise investment.
Another critical step for parents is to make sure that in-app purchases are turned off on any mobile devices that your children use. We have some quick tutorials that can help with iOS and Android:
While no one is claiming that your child will become addicted to gambling by buying a loot box on their favorite game, the data clearly shows that this could have a psychological effect. Make sure that you know what game developers are asking of your child, so you can have a discussion with your child about what is a wise investment of their time and money.