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Online Gaming - What Are 'Loot Boxes' & 'Skins'?

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Online gaming develops fast and us parents have a tough time keeping up! In this post, we're introducing you to two terms you might not have come across - loot boxes and skins. They're all about your kids spending your hard earned cash, often when they have no idea they're even doing it.

Parent Zone’s latest report, ‘The Rip-Off Games’, found that more than 76% of children believe that online games try to make you spend as much money as possible – and almost half of kids believe that online video games are only fun when you spend money...I'll let that sit with you for a second!

 

Loot Boxes

In online gaming, a loot box (a.k.a "loot" or "prize crates") is a consumable virtual item which can be exchanged for virtual currency to receive a randomised selection of virtual items such as coins, a new outfit, body armour, guns, ammunition, food, medicine, the list goes on! They essentially allow the player to get incremental improvements to their game play experience or character they play with.

Worringly, the loot box market is worth £20bn globally and around £700m in the UK, with many in games popular with children.

Example

Recently, a family from London discovered their 8-year-old son had spent a colossal £980 on virtual donuts in The Simpsons iPad game ! The little fella had racked up the bill by purchasing donuts within the game over a series of months at around 75p per pop! Another young boy spent £1,700 on virtual ammunition in a game called Zombies vs Ninja. Another case where two sons (ages six and eight) of England international rugby star racked up a colossal £3,200 mobile phone bill playing a game on an iPhone belonging to their dad, in just 3 hours!

Many games use psychological techniques well-established in the adult gambling industry, to ‘nudge’ players to keep spending money. Due to the randomised nature of what kids get back when you part with your hard earned virtual currency, the government is being pressured into classifying loot boxes as gambling. This would ban their sale to children and would be a positive step in the right direction. Until then however, it is up to us as parents to ensure our little ones aren't getting addicted (or just carried away) with these highly addictive elements of online games.

 

Skins & Skin Betting

Skins are very similar to Loot Boxes, they're just the specific kind of extra that changes your characters appearance (e.g. jacket, gloves, helmet, etc.). The difficulty with skins is that there are entire financial markets out there where these skins can be traded for real money...bet you didn't see that coming did you!

One young gamer told Sky News he wants to see a change in the law. Alastair Copland said: "I was asking for money for my birthday and for Christmas to spend on loot boxes and games, I never told my parents that's what I was doing. That's where my spare income went."

"At the push of a button you can buy a loot box. Within five minutes you can put a skin on a website and start gambling with it."

 

How Can We Help Our Kids?

1. Take an interest. Sit with them whilst they play, watch them, play with them. Learn how and when these kinds of loot boxes are deployed and what they get in return. Ask them if they're spending real money or virtual money.

Let's remember, that our kids buying the occasional loot box isn’t going to be an issue but it is something to keep an eye on.

2. Raise Their Awareness. Most of the time when kids spend a lot on virtual assets in online games they were completely unaware it was linked to real money. Simply making them aware should help alleviate most of the risk as they will game more consciously going forward.

2. Double-Check Your Payment Settings. Check all the online gaming systems (Xbox, Playstation, App Store, etc.) that your card details aren’t being used. Unsure how to do this? Ask one of our experts a question in our member forum here.

It’s easy for a child to get tempted into buying a new skin for their character or a new weapon camo – or simply to click the wrong button and make an accidental purchase. Beware of having payment methods (vouchers, prepaid cards, debit/credit card) linked to their account.

 

Need Help?

Worried about your child? Concerned they might have an online gaming addiction? Get in contact with The National Gambling Helpline or ask one of our friendly experts in our community forum here.

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