YGAM launches Parent Hub to highlight dangers of loot boxes

21 July 2020

The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) has partnered research teams from Newcastle and Loughborough Universities to launch Parent Hub, a new portal through which it aims to educate parents and carers about the risks of loot boxes.

Parent Hub will contain resources, information and activities to help safeguard children online, and has been developed using funding from Lottoland, GVC Holdings and Playtech.

It aims to articulate why children are drawn to purchase loot boxes, explaining the key motivations such as the surprise and expense associated with a blind-boxed item and the excitement of winning something rare.

It also provides access to research setting out the potential harm loot boxes can cause, from the Newcastle and Loughborough researchers. These range from minors being exposed to gambling system mechanics, as well as the emotional and financial harm that can result from overspending.

Researchers from the universities spoke to a number of young people, as part of the project. One admitted to spending nearly £500 buying packs of cards in a mobile game, and playing for up to seven hours a day.

Ensuring other children do not suffer similar issues will be aided by information on the use of parental controls and identifying potential signs of harm available on the site.

“For some children, the act of opening a loot box is as important as what it contains” explained Dr James Ash, a reader in technology, space and society at Newcastle University, who is leading the research.

“Feelings of surprise and suspense lead to the repeat purchase of loot boxes. But this is often short-lived.

“Children and young people have told us how they feel disappointment, frustration, anger, and regret at loot box purchases, yet they are still driven to purchase again,” Ash explained. “This is concerning, given the deliberate design of these mechanisms – the visual stimulus, the randomised contents, and the very unfavourable odds for unboxing rare items – which can lead to repeat loot box purchases.”

YGAM head of parental engagement Amanda Atkinson added that the research would help develop its educational programmes to better help protect young and vulnerable people from gambling related harm.

“Certainly the enormous variety of games and in-app purchases that are available can make it confusing for parents to keep on top of safety controls,” Atkinson said. “Through our educational resources, we are focused on providing crucial information to parents so they can identify changes in behaviours and understand the effects this may have on mental and financial wellbeing.”

In collaboration with GamCare, YGAM is delivering the UK’s ground-breaking National Gambling Education and Prevention Programme. Supported by members of the Betting and Gaming Council, the £10 million programme will reach over 3 million young people to raise awareness of the risks of potential gaming and gambling related harms.

The launch of Parent Hub comes as scrutiny grows over loot boxes, with a growing number of voices speaking out in favour of classing them as age-restricted products. In June, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched a call for evidence to better understand the impact of loot boxes, ultimately looking to ascertain whether an age rating was necessary.

In June, YGAM operations director Kev Clelland wrote for iGB to set out why the charity believes that limiting loot boxes to those aged 18 and above was necessary.

It follows calls from a DCMS committee to regulate the products as a form of gambling, a measure backed by Children’s Commissioner for England.