A growing number of countries noticed an increasing number of children creating large debts on their parents’ credit cards coming from nothing less than gambling. And if illegal betting on sports or playing online slots is your first guess, it was actually betting that is covertly allowed in popular online games.
Unlockables and loot boxes
The whole situation stems from the so-called unlockable items, which are not available for regular purchase, but are obtainable if you invest a certain amount of in-game currency and you get struck by luck to win a very valuable item. Technically, you always win because you get an item no matter what, but everybody knows that people invest in in-game currency, which they paid with real money, only to win something really extraordinary. And since the game currency is like an intermediary, technically, no real money is used.
Another sneaky ploy game creators use is a recognizable pattern from online gambling—the first attempts at getting an unlockable item, or so-called “loot box” as it is called in gaming circles, are always free, while players are showered with in-game currency during the first month, so they get really accustomed to being able to luck out and get something other people don’t have. However, once that stops, people start paying real cash for the opportunity.
The wicked psychology
The psychological mechanism behind this is meticulously designed to target all the weaknesses that lead people to addictive behaviour. You feel like the next go is going to be your lucky one or the one that’s is going to break your losing streak. Add the possibility of selling the items for in-game currency and then exchanging it for real money and you have yourself a system that allows all players, including kids, a chance to gamble away a fortune. Even if the loss isn’t as big, a whole generation of young people is learning that paying for a chance to obtain something is completely legitimate.
Skin gambling in the UK
A variation of this is the so-called skin gambling in the UK, where predictions of the UK Gambling Commission say more than 25,000 children as young as 11 are developing gambling addictions by investing digital money for an opportunity to win in-game digital items called skins–a special appearance given to a weapon, which, by the way, has no effect on the weapon’s effectiveness. These aesthetic boosters can then be sold, reaching prices of even more than $1,300 for really rare ones. Of course, they can be won by playing the games, but the odds of getting them this way are slim to none.
So, an average teenager wants this Hello Kitty AK-47, which works in absolutely the same manner as the non-branded one, but is way cooler, and needs $500 to buy it. Will he/she fork out the cash or take a couple of bucks and try his/her luck with a loot box, where he can get the skin practically for nothing and then even resell it later? That sounds a lot like gambling to me.
Bans in certain countries
It seems that this issue didn’t go unnoticed by certain European governments. The Netherlands was the first country to ban loot boxes in online games, ordering video game publishers to stop offering these items and ban their trade. Belgium followed in the footsteps of its neighbour; however, the regulatory bodies in countries like the UK, New Zealand and the USA determined that there weren’t enough elements to declare unlockables a form of gambling.
Until this issue is resolved on a more global level, pay attention to your child’s online activity and be aware of the dangers he/she is facing every day.