What is a loot box?

A recent report by UK Safer Internet Centre found that 70% of young people who play games online have made a purchase within a game, with 31% reporting that they do this at least once a week1.

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Many games give players the option to buy additional features to enhance their gameplay. Loot boxes are a type of in-game purchase that parents and carers have become increasingly worried about.

Here's everything you need to know.

What you need to know about loot boxes

Loot boxes are mystery boxes containing a random selection of items which can be purchased with real money, or credits built up within a game. They're different from other in-game prizes because you don’t know what's in them before you purchase. What's included in the box will depend on the game you’re playing.

Some of the items might include:

  • new weapons or tools
  • ‘power ups’ that help to improve the gaming experience
  • access to new characters
  • new graphics that let the player change the appearance of their avatar or character in the game. These are referred to as ‘skins’
  • access to new features like the ability to chat with other players
  • time limits so they can play the game for longer.

The mystery element of a loot box can make it seem more exciting for young people, and companies often advertise that they contain rarer items. They're often designed using bright graphics, fireworks and sounds which can add another level of excitement and make it particularly enticing. This might encourage them to repeat purchases with the hope of unboxing something similar.

Young people can also become captivated by the process and the excitement they feel when they open one. Because loot boxes and in-app purchases are so common in games, without regulation they can normalise gambling from a younger age.

There's debate about whether loot boxes are a form of gambling. Some organisations say they are because players can’t see what they've bought until after they've paid. There are currently no rules and regulations to stop children from purchasing loot boxes, however, the government is expected to review the current Gambling Act.

Not all games have loot boxes, so it’s useful to check the games your child plays. The PEGI system tells you what age rating each game has, plus which of the eight labels it has attached to it. In 2021, a new label was added to the ratings to notify parents about ‘In-Game Purchases’. When the label says ‘Includes Random Paid Items’ this means the game has loot boxes. This label has no correlation to the age rating of the game.

Games like Fortnite and FIFA have recently changed the process around the gambling aspect of loot boxes. These platforms now allow you to ‘preview’ what's in the loot box before purchasing it.

Four tips to help keep your child safe

1. Start a conversation about gaming and loot boxes

Have regular conversations with your child about what games they're playing online.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • what games have you been playing recently?
  • have you heard of loot boxes?
  • do any of the games you play have the option of buying items and/or loot boxes?

Get more advice on talking to your child about online safety here.

2. Talk to your child about in-game purchases and loot boxes

Explain to your child that they shouldn’t feel pressured into purchasing loot boxes. Ask them to come to you first before agreeing to buy anything online. Ask them if what they're buying/trying to win in a loot box would actually improve the game for them.

Make sure they understand that once they purchase a loot box, they won’t be able to get the money back. Encourage them to think about whether it'll improve the game for them, or if they're just excited about opening something new.

3. Explore alternative options

Discuss the chance element of loot boxes and the risk of not always getting what they want in return. Explain that while they might seem inexpensive at first, these purchases can add up. Talk to them about maybe just buying items within games rather than taking the risk of not getting the item they're hoping for.

If your child has access to money, for example, pocket money, you could talk to them about spending a proportion of this on in-game items. You could also explore online games that don't have in-app purchases. 

4. Switch off in-app purchases or limit spending

Be aware of what children are spending on games and ensure that your card details aren’t linked to or saved on the gaming platform your child uses. Most games and devices have settings that can help you manage what your child is spending. You might decide to switch off in-app purchases completely or choose to set them a monthly budget.

If your child is younger, we'd recommend switching off in-app purchases on your child’s device to prevent them from buying loot boxes and games on the app store. Get more advice on parental controls here.

Worried about a child?

Contact our Helpline by calling 0808 800 5000 or emailing [email protected].

Children can contact Childline any time to get support themselves.

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