Loot Boxes Cause ‘Emotional Harm’ to Children, Study Finds


It’s an age-old debate that has split the community for many years: do loot boxes do more harm than good? For so long, gamers have been engaged in countless fervent discussions regarding the validity, need, and risks surrounding loot boxes, and it seems as though we’re a long way from the finish line.

In a recent university study completed by both the Loughborough and Newcastle Universities in the United Kingdom, it was revealed that the concept of loot boxes is financially and emotionally harmful to children. Following an in-depth period of research, the study seems to have confirmed the worst fears of many parents: loot boxes are harmful to children.

Should Loot Boxes Be Restricted to Over-18s Only?

Overwatch (2016) featured an infamous loot box system.

It was a damning study that pulled apart the very nature of the loot box mechanic, ultimately condemning what is essentially a deeply addictive feature that exposes children to the act of gambling.

There was a single line taken from the core of the report that perfectly highlighted the findings of these two universities:

Our research demonstrates the dangers of in-game purchasing, especially when game developers actively use techniques drawn from gambling to encourage children and young people to buy in-game items.

Dr James Ash, Newcastle University

At the heart of this study sat forty-two families, all of which had children aged from five to seventeen. Reportedly, one child in the study managed to rack up a bill of £464 ($556) in the space of a single week, with his parents apparently being unaware of his spending spree.

Ultimately, following the revelation that loot boxes can cause financial and emotional harm to children too young to understand the value of money or to manage an addictive habit, actions (and demands) were set out by the researchers:

  • A new independent regulator is established for the gaming industry
  • Loot boxes and other chance-based mechanisms should be restricted to over-18s
  • In-game currencies should be turned into local currency – e.g., Pounds, Euros etc
  • There should be standardised parental controls across games.

Where Will This Debate Go Next?

Recently, many changes have been made to the base nature of the loot box mechanic, with some developers and even some governments taking action to eradicate them entirely. For instance, Overwatch 2 launched with a new free-to-play model, wiping out loot boxes in favour of a seasonal battle pass.

This decision was reportedly made to avoid ‘potential legal battles’ in certain jurisdictions.

In July 2022, regulators in The Netherlands followed in the footsteps of the Belgian government, opting to put in place a blanket ban on loot boxes. In the United Kingdom, the government ruled that loot boxes were harmful to children, but they opted to not include them as a part of the Gambling Act 2005, which regulates and governs gambling across the nation.

Ultimately, there’s still plenty of life left in this debate, and until a global standard is met, it’s likely to push ever onwards.

For more from Insider Gaming, check out the leaked PlayStation Plus games for December!