Press release

Over 1 in 10 young gamers get into debt buying loot boxes

Embargoed until 00:01 Wednesday 23rd December 2020 
For further information and interviews contact:
Toby Green, Policy and Research Manager, RSPH / 020 7265 7348
With Christmas approaching, the Gambling Health Alliance (GHA) is warning parents about the financial cost of video games containing paid-for loot boxes. New research from the GHA has found that:

  • Almost one in six (15%) young gamers had taken money from their parents without their permission to buy loots boxes;
  • One in ten (11%) had used their parents’ credit or debit card to fund their loot box purchases;
  • One in ten (9%) had borrowed money they couldn’t repay to spend on loot boxes;
  • Three young gamers’ loot box buying habits resulted in their families having to re-mortgage their homes to cover the costs.
On top of the purchase price of the game, which is on average £35 [1], almost one in four (22%) respondents spent over £100 on loot boxes over the course of completing a game, suggesting young people are being set on a path to an expensive and potentially addictive habit this Christmas.

Many respondents felt loot boxes damaged their gaming experience, citing a number of factors, including:
  • the games were ‘play to win’ - without spending heavily on loot boxes, it was impossible to play competitively;
  • that the odds of getting valuable items were incredibly low, leaving them feeling frustrated and ripped off;
  • the features surrounding the loot boxes, as well as the purpose they served in the game, made them especially addictive.

Duncan Stephenson, Chair of the GHA and Deputy Chief Executive of RSPH, said:
“We know that many teenagers will be unwrapping video games for Christmas, and while we know they give a huge amount of enjoyment for many, we are concerned that games containing loot boxes are having an impact on the finances of young people.

While this is a small survey of gamers, our research suggests that the drive to play games containing loot boxes is encouraging many to beg, borrow and steal – loot boxes really are the gift that keeps on taking. Aside from the financial cost our latest survey with gamers suggests that the fixation with loot boxes can lead to classic symptoms of addiction including mood swings, problems sleeping, and impacting on their social life.

We are calling for parents to be aware of the risks of loot boxes when buying presents this Christmas, and to boycott games with these predatory mechanics until we see them classified as a form of gambling and removed from games played by under 18s.”

Geraldine Bedell, Executive Editor, Parent Zone, said:
“Parent Zone strongly backs the GHA’s call for loot boxes to be classified as gambling. Our research, like theirs, points to the exploitation of children by gambling-like mechanisms in online games, and the use of psychological techniques drawn from gambling. Risks are being taken with the future of young people, who are being taught to gamble.”

The vast majority of young people made the connection between buying loot boxes and gambling, with 91% of survey respondents agreeing that loot boxes should be classified as a form of gambling and three in four (76%) saying that loot boxes should be illegal for under 18s to buy. Gamers also thought they could be a gateway to other forms of gambling, with two in five (41%) agreeing that spending money on a loot box before the age of 18 would make someone more likely to gamble when older.

In line with the views of young gamers, therefore, the GHA is campaigning for paid-for loot boxes to be legally classified as gambling and banned in games for under 18s. The 2005 Gambling Act is currently being reviewed by the Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently consulted on the impact of loot boxes in video games. In response to these consultations, the GHA is asking for the Government to take a public health approach to gambling by protecting the young and vulnerable from the harms of gambling products, de-normalising gambling and reducing exposure to gambling, and investing in research, treatment and education.
Notes to editors:
A full report with all of our findings on the financial impact of loot boxes will be available on the GHA's website on 23 December 2020. 
If a young person is experiencing gambling harm they can seek help from GamCare, the leading national provider of free information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling. Additionally, the National Problem Gambling Clinic supports those aged 13 years and above in England in Wales experiencing gambling difficulties. 
Please contact us for case studies of young gamer’s experiences of loot boxes. 
About the survey
Between 29th October and 16th November 2020, data was collected from 611 respondents aged 13 to 24 living in England, Scotland and Wales. The survey sought to understand loot box purchasing habits, and the impact of loot boxes on health and wellbeing. It was conducted through Survey Monkey and promoted through social media, Reddit, and email marketing to previous RSPH survey respondents. 
About the Gambling Health Alliance
In 2019, RSPH established the Gambling Health Alliance. The objective of the Alliance is to bring together organisations and individuals who have a shared interest in reducing the damage caused to health and wellbeing from gambling. We currently stand at 50 members, including the Royal British Legion, Citizens Advice, and NHS Substance Misuse Providers.  
The Gambling Health Alliance will work to ensure that gambling disorder and the harms that arise from it are placed on an equal footing with other major public health challenges, focussing on prevention, early intervention, and increased community engagement. For more information please see and on Twitter @GamblingHealthA. 
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)
• The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is an independent health education charity, dedicated to protecting and promoting the public’s health and wellbeing;
• We are the world’s longest-established public health body with over 6,500 members drawn from the public health community both in the UK and internationally;
• Our operations include an Ofqual recognised awarding organisation, a training and development arm, and health and wellbeing accreditation.
• We also produce a wide-variety of public health conferences; our publishing division includes the internationally renowned journal Public Health; and we are developing policy and campaigns to promote better health and wellbeing.
• For more information visit our website or follow us on Twitter: @R_S_P_H