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In 2018, the gaming industry reported 30-billion-dollars in revenue with 2022 earnings expected to reach 50 billion![1] Much of this profit comes from the pockets of vulnerable kids and teens. To help your kids learn about the risks of online play before they get into trouble, we created the Social Media Readiness Online Course. Set up like driver’s training (but for the internet), each module is followed by a mastery quiz. That way, when your child earns their graduation certificate, you know they’ve learned what they need to have better judgment when faced with difficult online choices. For today’s GKIS article, we’ve uncovered another tricky trap that introduces vulnerable players to dangerous gambling behaviors, the loot box.

Microtransactions

In the old days, the only expense to gamers was the cost of buying the gaming device and the video game. Now video games require players to make additional purchases within the game to advance. A common and profitable expense comes in the form of microtransactions.

Microtransactions are in-game purchases of opportunity, goods, and game currency. Two types of microtransactions are desirable to players, fun pain and skill games. Fun pain purchases refer to a second chance opportunity. Skills games remove obstacles during stressful game situations. Microtransactions typically occur in the form of game currency.

Game Currency

Game currency refers to the virtual money or points necessary to progress in the game. For example, NBA 2k offers VC (Virtual Currency), Call of Duty provides CP (Call of Duty Points), Fortnite offers V-Bucks, FIFA offers FIFA coins, and Apex Legends offers Apex coins. One advantage to offering game currency is that it can have its own value. By giving a different name and image to currency, it’s easier for players to lose track of spending. Tempting marketing ploys are also common, like free offers, larger package discounts, limited time offers, and loot boxes.

Loot Boxes

Loot boxes have become a massive moneymaker for game publishers. A loot box refers to a box of virtual items (like stickers, skins, camos, weapons, in-game currency, or another loot box) that players buy before they know exactly what it contains.[4] It’s like a surprise bag that promises an advantage over other players.

Sometimes players get a disappointing loot box; while other times they win big. Creating different values to the loot boxes creates what researchers call the near-miss effect. That means the brain fires with an “almost win” in the same way it would for a win. Kids being hit with the near-miss effect are highly motivated to keep spending until they reach their dream loot box jackpot. What happens if they get their dream? They desperately keep spending to win again!

Do loot boxes introduce kids to the addictive features of gambling?

If it seems to you that the desperate quest triggered by the near-miss effect sounds like gambling, you are right. It’s one thing for adults to gamble, but it’s an entirely different thing to sneak gambling features into child activities. Because kids’ brains are still developing, they are particularly vulnerable to forming addictive behaviors.

Here is what loot boxes have in common with other gambling activities:

  • Exchange of money or a valuable item
  • Unknown outcome that can change based on future events
  • Outcome is based on chance
  • Uninvolvement can avoid losses
  • Winners gain at the sole expense of losers[1]

So is child gambling now a thing? According to the Gambling Health Alliance, it is.

They report that:

  • 41% of gamers under the age of 18 have purchased a loot box
  • 75% of gamers report that they’ve felt regret for loot game purchases
  • 48% of gamers have hid the amount spent on in-game microtransactions
  • 76% of gamers believe that loot boxes should be made illegal for minors[3]

Publishers That Incorporate Loot Boxes

  • Apex Legends by Electronic Arts
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 by Activision
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive by Valve & Hidden Path Entertainment
  • FIFA ’17-20 by Electronic Arts
  • Fortnite by Epic Games
  • Gears of War 4 by Microsoft Studios
  • Halo 5: Guardians by Microsoft Studios
  • Injustice 2 by Warner Bros.
  • League of Legends by Riot Games
  • NBA 2k21 by 2k Sports
  • Overwatch by Blizzard Entertainment
  • PlayersUnknown’s Battlegrounds by PUBG Cooperation
  • Star Wars Battlefront II by Electronic Games

Furthermore, Activision and Electronic Arts have current patents on motivation to spend.[2]

How can you protect your kids from getting tricked into online gambling?

First, keep up with our free GKIS blog articles by subscribing in the orange box on the top of our GetKidsInternetSafe Home Page.

Start a healthy, informative dialogue as a family about the traps of online activities. We guide you through everything you need to know with our free Connected Family Agreement. It comes directly to your email once you subscribe to our home page.

Once your family learns the basics about online digital injury risks and how to be smart on your devices, you’ll definitely want to add our injury and the psychological wellness strategies to build health and resilience. GKIS supplements How to Spot Marketing, and our Cybersecurity and Red Flags.

And finally, as mentioned before, if you have tweens or teens our Social MediaReadiness Course offers the valuable information needed to avoid digital.

Too busy to figure it all out step-by-step? We’ve got you covered! Our GetKidsInternetSafe App takes you through all of our GKIS course content (including everything listed above) in quick and easy 5-minute weekly videos created by our own Internet Safety Expert, Dr. Tracy Bennett. A ten-minute commitment a week to avoid costly digital and psychological injuries down the road may be the most important opportunity for family safety we’ve ever offered. Your first 30 days are completely free. Click here to find out more so you don’t miss out!

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Christian Sandoval for gambling activities in video games, and for co-authoring this article.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph. D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
GetKidsInternetSafe

Photo Credits

Photo by Alexander Andrews from Unsplash

Photo by Rock Staar from Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Work Cited

[1] Zendle D, Meyer R, Over H. 2019 Adolescents and loot boxes: links with problem gambling and motivations for purchase. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 190049. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190049

[2] King, D. L., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2018). Predatory monetization schemes in video games (e.g. ’loot boxes’) and internet gaming disorder. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 113(11), 1967–1969.  https://doi.org/10.1111/add.14286

[3] RSPH. (n.d.). Take back controllers: three quarters of young gamers want an end to the ‘gamblification’ of video games. Org.Uk.  https://www.rsph.org.uk/about-us/news/take-back-controllers-three-quarters-of-young-gamers-want-an-end-to-the-gamblification-of-video-games.html

[4] Definition of Loot box, BuzzWord from Macmillan Dictionary. (n.d.). Macmillandictionary.Com. https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/buzzword/entries/loot-box.html

Christian Sandoval
Christian Sandoval
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