03 March 2021

What you need to know about loot boxes and in-game purchases

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We’ve heard from many parents that gaming has been a popular activity over the last year. It’s helped kids keep in touch with their friends and stay entertained during a period that has been difficult for lots of families.

Over the last few years, in-app purchases have become increasingly common online and nowadays many games give players the option to buy additional features such as loot boxes or other virtual items that can help to enhance their game play.

These have become a major source of income in the gaming industry but there are risks involved. Here’s what you need to know.

What you need to know

Loot boxes and in-game purchases are virtual items that players can buy with either virtual currency earned through the game, or with real money. What is available to buy will vary from game to game, but the items will often give players access to additional features that can help them progress further in a game.

Some examples of these might be:

• 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 such as the ability to chat with other players.
• Time limits so they can play the game for longer.

Loot boxes are mystery boxes containing a random selection of some of the items mentioned above. Companies will often advertise that loot boxes contain rarer items which can make them more enticing for kids and encourage them to repeat purchase.

The lucky dip element to loot boxes, paired with the chance of winning a high-reward item, means they can be seen as riskier than other in-game purchases.

• They can help you progress further in a game.
• The excitement of opening the box and seeing what’s inside.
• Many loot boxes contain rarer items that are hard to find. This can encourage players to repeat purchase.
• They might see an influencer or famous gamer talking about in-app purchases which helps to normalise it.
• On average, virtual items are relatively low cost meaning that a child could pay with their pocket money or the payment could go unnoticed on an adult account.
• Social pressures.

Loot boxes and in-app purchases appear in many free and paid for games that are popular among children such as Fortnite, PUBG (Player Unknown Battle Ground), Fifa, Apex Legends and many more.

You should make sure to talk to your child about the games they’re playing and find out if they have loot boxes.

  • Loot boxes and in-game purchases can normalise gambling at a younger age.
  • They can put children at risk of in-game hacking from other players who want to steal their virtual items and features for themselves.
  • Not being happy with the contents of the loot box can make children feel disappointed, upset or even angry – or encourage them to make repeat purchases to try to acquire rarer items.
  • Opening a loot box containing a rarer item might encourage them to purchase again with the hope of unboxing something similar. This can sometimes mean that children will end up spending more than the value of the box, and in some cases accidently running up huge bills.

Top tips

Have a conversation with your child about in-game purchases and make sure they understand what they are. Explain that although they might seem inexpensive at first, small purchases can easily add up. Remind them that loot boxes and other in-app purchases can be purchased using both real-money and virtual currency so they should always check before agreeing to buy anything online.

Make sure they understand that it’s not always easy to get money back once it’s been spent online so it’s important they always come to you first before buying anything

Nowadays lots of free and paid for games have in-app purchases. Have regular conversations with your child about the different types of games they’re playing and explore our Net Aware reviews for more advice on how to keep them safe.

Popular games like Fortnite, Fifa and Players Unknown Battleground all have loot boxes available but have some settings that can help prevent purchases.

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 would recommend switching off in-app purchases on your child’s device to prevent them from buying loot boxes and games on the app store.

How to switch off in-app purchases

Apple Store (Apple Devices)

1) Go to ‘Settings’ and select ‘Screen time’.
2) Tap ‘Content & Privacy Restrictions’ and then ‘iTunes and App Store Purchases’.
3) Select ‘In-app purchases’ and then ‘Don’t Allow’.

We would recommend also selecting ‘Always Require’ underneath the ‘Require Password’ setting so your child can’t purchase anything on the app store without entering a password.

Google Play Store (Samsung and Android)
1) Go onto your Apps and then select Play Store.
2) Tap ‘Menu’ and then ‘Settings.
3) Select ‘Require authentication for purchases’ and then ‘For all purchases through
Google Play on this device’.

If you want to set your child a monthly spending budget you could purchase a Google Play Store or iTunes voucher.

Games consoles

On Xbox you can create a passcode to prevent your child from purchasing anything in a game or on the app store. You can also add money to your child’s account to set limits on how much they can spend. Playstation also has parental controls that allow you to limit your child’s transactions.

Check out How to use parental controls on popular gaming devices for more information on this.

Many games have communication features that let players talk to each other. If your child is regularly purchasing loot boxes this can make them more vulnerable to hackers who want to steal the contents of them.

Encourage them to be careful about discussing their virtual items, especially if they are rare, with other players. Remind them to never share their password or any other personal information like locations, names or email addresses with anyone.

To protect their account, help your child set up a password that would be hard for someone to guess.

Make sure it contains a mixture of upper and lower-case letters and symbols. We would recommend using a word they will remember but changing some of the letters to make it more secure. For example, instead of elephants use EL3ph@nts.

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