Most modern online games contain in-game purchases, with one of the most common forms of these offered purchases being “lootboxes”. These are in-game microtransactions that allow you to open a mystery box, or pack, in exchange for real money, or in-game currency collected through the game. They offer numerous items depending on the game, including characters, powerups, “lives”, cosmetics, other in-game currencies, etc. Lootboxes are different from traditional in-game purchases because the customer doesn’t know what item they will receive after payment. It’s considered by many to be a subtle form of gambling that if often overlooked.

Lootboxes are considered risky because of two main factors:

  • “What could have been”:

Some boxes show you the potential prize pool after you’ve bought one, showing you what you could’ve won and therefore encouraging you to try again.

  • “What should have been”:

Some games will often lure you in by letting you win high-value items easily at first, however, it may take a very long time and a lot of money to see that kind to prize again. Players are roped in by the idea that their “losing streak” will soon end, or they tell themselves that they will stop when they get another high-value item.

Because of the excitement of getting to open a mystery box and not knowing what’s inside, younger players often end up being roped into multiple purchases, meaning that lootboxes can become quickly and highly addictive. In-app purchases have become so common that without proper regulation, they can start normalizing gambling from a younger age.

There is a current debate on whether these mystery microtransactions are a form of gambling and if it should be made illegal. Several countries have already gone ahead and banned these types of transactions, as there is very little rules and regulations to prevent children from purchasing lootboxes.

You should be regularly checking it with your kids to see what online games they’re playing. You could ask them what they’ve been playing recently, if they know what lootboxes are and if any of the games they play offer the option to buy lootboxes, card packs, or any other mystery items.

If your child doesn’t already know, explain to them what in-game and in-app purchases are, and that they cost real money that you can’t get back. Explain to them that in-game purchases may seem cheap at first, but those costs can quickly add up. Encourage your kids to think about whether purchasing the offer will improve the game for them, or if they’re just after the excitement of opening something new.

Now all games contain these kinds of transactions, therefore it’s important to research the games your child is playing. The PEGI rating system assigns a label to entertainment content, such as movies, TV shows, mobile apps, and games, with a clear minimum age recommendation based on the content in them. These ratings are there to help consumers, mainly parents and guardians, decide if something is suitable for their child.

Common Sense Media can be used to look for age-appropriate media recommendations, or to search for media your child is consuming, like TV shows, movies, games, apps, podcasts, and books. Upon finding what you’re looking for, you will be provided with a list of reviews written by other parents. You can then have a better understanding of the content they’re consuming.