Skip to main content
  • Register
  • Help
  • Contact us
  • Log out of your HL account

Clamp down on Fortnite 'loot boxes', urges children's commissioner

Loot boxes allow players to spend real money to unlock additional characters or equipment which will help them progress.

Article originally published by The Guardian. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

The children’s commissioner for England has called for tighter legislation to protect young online gamers, some of whom are spending hundreds of pounds on “loot boxes” to keep up with friends and advance in games.

Anne Longfield wants ministers to amend current law so that loot boxes in games such as Fortnite and Fifa are classified as gambling. She also wants a maximum daily spending limit to be introduced for children to curb excessive in-game spending.

Loot boxes allow players to spend real money to unlock additional characters or equipment which will help them progress. They are seen by many as gambling because players have no idea what they are buying, so they are like a lucky dip and players can end up chasing their losses.

Randomised in-game microtransactions – more commonly known as “loot boxes” – have revolutionised the business of video games, offering publishers a revenue stream that can far outstrip the once-traditional £60 cost of a boxed game without triggering heated accusations of turning a game into a “pay to win” farce.

The system was largely developed in Japan, where games that rely on loot boxes are known as Gacha games, after a popular physical equivalent, Gachapon machines, which offer a capsule containing a random toy from a selection of ten or so. Customers are encouraged to buy multiple capsules to try to collect the entire line.

The digital equivalents encourage the same collector mentality, with a few additions: different items are typically more or less rare, for example, so while any given loot box may be guaranteed to contain a certain number of common items, there will be just a fraction of a percentage point chance that they will contain any of the rarest sort.

Critics argue that this approach, deployed in popular games including FIFA (where the loot boxes are dubbed “card packs” and contain football players) and Overwatch (where the loot boxes contain cosmetic outfits, dialogue and visual art for characters), is equivalent to gambling, since players are encouraged to compulsively purchase loot boxes based on the chance they will receive the specific rare item they desire, with the same psychological triggers from success and failure.

The commissioner’s report, Gaming the System, also reveals that some children fear they are addicted to gaming and do not feel in control of the amount of time they spend playing. One 16-year-old told researchers: You don’t realise how long you’re actually playing for … sometimes it’s five or six hours.”

More than nine out of 10 children (93%) play video games in the UK. The report found that younger children, aged 10 and 11, spend two to three hours a day playing online games including Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Mario Kart and Skylanders, mainly after school and on the weekends.

Older children, aged 15 and 16, spend one to three hours a day playing Rainbow Six Siege, the Fifa football series, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto online, balancing this with revision and homework.

Some children said they were worried loot boxes were a form of gambling. Those playing Fifa, for example, said they realised the chances of finding a good football player in a mystery pack were very low, but they still spent money in the hope of adding to their squad. “I never get anything out of it [buying packs] but I still do it,” said one 14-year-old Fifa player.

The commissioner acknowledged that playing games online could be rewarding and could help develop strategic skills and friendships, but warned that young players were open to exploitation by games companies playing on their need to keep up with friends by encouraging them to spend on loot boxes.

“Children have told us they worry they are gambling when they buy loot boxes, and it’s clear some children are spending hundreds of pounds chasing their losses,” said Longfield. “I want the government to classify loot boxes in games like Fifa as a form of gambling. A maximum daily spend limit for children would also be reassuring for parents and children themselves.”

The commissioner wants financial harm to be brought within the scope of the government’s forthcoming online harms legislation. She says the government should take immediate action to amend the definition of gaming in section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 to regulate loot boxes as gambling.

In addition, she says games that are distributed online should be subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, just as physical games are, with additional warnings displayed for games which facilitate in-game spending.

MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport committee in the House of Commons have previously recommended that loot boxes should be regulated as gambling and children barred from purchasing them in their report on immersive and addictive technologies. Earlier this month, the NHS announced the opening of the country’s first specialist clinic to treat children and young adults addicted to playing video games.

Responding to the commissioner’s report, a government spokesperson said: “Video games can be enjoyed by children safely as part of a healthy lifestyle and we encourage parents to use built-in controls to set spending and time limits.

“But we are clear children must always be protected from harm and we will carefully consider the concerns raised in this report in relation to excessive or gambling-like behaviour.”


This article was written by Sally Weale from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Article originally published by The Guardian. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

Free news email alerts

  • Daily and weekly news
  • Major Publishers
Register