Because online games are still a relatively new form of media, less is understood about how game developers make money from their games, and how much online games really cost to play. Over recent years more has been written in the media about loot boxes and the similarity they have to online gambling.
For parents and carers, it can be very useful to understand how loot boxes work, and how game companies actually make money. This will also allow you to make more informed decisions about the kind of games that are suitable for your child.
What are loot boxes?
Loot boxes can be purchased within an online game, each loot box contains an in-game item. The in-game item could be a new item of clothing, a ‘skin’ for your character, a new weapon or an item that helps you progress in the game.
Loot boxes always provide the player with something, however there’s no guarantee that the player will get the item that they were hoping for. Loot boxes are usually an optional extra and it’s possible to play the game in it’s entirety without purchasing any loot boxes.
Why do players buy loot boxes?
Some of you may remember the packs of football cards, or Pokémon cards. Certain cards were more rare than others, this encouraged people to buy multiple packs of cards hoping to get a rare card that they did not have in their collection. Loot boxes work the same way, certain in game items are more rare, this encourages multiple purchases of loot boxes if a player is seeking a particular rare item.
Loot boxes are purchased using in-game currency, however the in-game currency can usually be acquired by spending real money. In most games there is no limit to the amount of money that can be spent.
Why did game developers create loot boxes?
Loot boxes can create balance within a game, rather than charging more for rare items, players spending the same amount have an equal chance to acquire certain rare items.
Of course it’s also a way that game companies generate income. Many online games are free to download and start playing (Fortnite for example), however the game then creates income for the developer through purchases of loot boxes.
This is an effective model for the games developer because offering the game for free removes any barrier to entry and increases the number of people playing the game. Then, if people chose to, they can spend money within the game.
What are the concerns about Loot Boxes?
1. Spending Money
There have been instances were children have spent a large amount of money in games and on loot boxes without their parents realising. This is more likely to happen in stances were there has been no password or pin-code restriction setup, and a credit card has been saved on the account.
Although loot boxes are widely reported in the media, this relates to a wider issue around in-game transactions in general. It’s a reminder of the importance of setting up online games effectively before children begin playing.
There are some games that require players to make purchases to advance through games, however these are more rare, and in most popular games, loot boxes are optional purchases.
2. It’s like Gambling
Because players can spend money with no guarantee that they will get an item that they want, it encourages players to buy multiple loot boxes hoping to get a particular rare item. Some games are now phasing out loot boxes because of recent changes to gambling laws.
3. Can be addictive
Loot boxes play on our endorphin system, in the same way that gambling does. Getting a good item can give gives players an emotional high, or buzz. This could lead players to continue seeking a sort-after rare item by purchasing more loot boxes
Action steps for parents and carers
1. Set up parental controls or family settings
Whatever the device your child is using; tablet, smart phone, PC or console you can set up parental controls on that device. This can include setting spending limits or setting password for any attempted purchases. To find out how to set parental controls on your device check out the pdf guides created by Internet Matters here.
2. Set up gaming accounts with a email address that you check.
Using an email address that you have easy access to for your children’s online gaming account means you will receive notifications of online purchases. You may also see more information relating to the activity on the account.
3. Remove or don’t add a credit card
Most online games don’t require a credit card to be saved for the game to be played. If your child would like to make a purchase you can do this add adding a certain amount of credit to their account, or using the physical vouchers that can be bought near the tills in many shops.
4. Take time to set it up
Setting up parental controls can take some time, but it’s worth it in the long run. Going through this process will also mean that you are more familiar with the games that your young person is playing.
5. Talk about it
When in our internet safety training for parents and carers, we emphasise the importance of having a conversation about what your young people are doing online. By showing an interest in your children’s online life you’ll have more opportunity to support them in any challenges they encounter in this area.
Talking about online purchases and loot boxes can also be great opportunity to help your children understand how online transactions and in game currency work.
Now download our Loot Box Parent Guide below. If you’ve found this useful, please add a link to this resource on your school website and share with the parents and carers at your school.
If you would like support in the area of online safety at your school, you may be interested to learn more about OpenView Educations internet safety workshops. We provide interactive internet safety workshops for students in Early Years Foundation all the way to Key Stage 3 students.
And if you’re looking to support your students wellbeing in general, you may also be interested to check out our new Anti Bullying Workshops for Anti-Bullying Week 2022.