A child playing a video game

Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Lockdown and loot boxes: Experts issue vital advice for parents of young gamers about risks of in-game purchases in response to recent screen-time concerns

Researchers from Loughborough and Newcastle Universities and the national charity Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) have teamed up to help parents and carers understand why, and control how, their children buy in-game items such as loot boxes.

The advice and effort to raise awareness of the potential risks associated with gaming and gambling is needed now more than ever as many parents say their children are spending more time playing digital games online due to lockdown measures keeping them indoors.

Loot boxes – digital items that are bought with real world money and contain random items of unknown value – have come under increased scrutiny as games of chance, with debate focusing on whether they should be regulated to protect gamers, especially children and young people who access them.

Dr Sarah Mills, a Reader in Human Geography in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, has been working with Newcastle’s Dr James Ash and Dr Rachel Gordon to gather youngsters’ experiences of loot boxes as part of a larger Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded project investigating the blurring between gaming and gambling in digital games.

Their research has been used by YGAM to launch a new ‘Parent Hub’ website to provide families with resources, information, and activities to help build digital resilience and safeguard their children. 

Recommended advice includes:

•             Disabling pop-ups

•             Enabling in-app and on-device parental controls

•             Set passwords for in-game purchases

•             Restrict and disable in-app purchases

•             Set boundaries – for example setting a monthly spending limit.

The website also explains why children are drawn to purchase loot boxes and covers the potential harm loot boxes can cause, such as exposure to and normalisation of gambling style systems.

Illustration of a loot box .An example of a loot box. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

Dr Mills says the research behind the recommendations is important as it “values children and young people’s first-hand experiences and reveals how they make sense of these gaming systems in their everyday lives at home”.

One young gamer the researchers spoke to as part of their studies told them of how they spent nearly £500 in a mobile card game by buying packs of random cards and at their peak, they were playing the game for six to seven hours a day.

When describing their experience, the young person said: “My guts were saying ‘stop’. Everything was saying ‘stop’, but my brain wasn’t. My brain was like ‘keep opening’. It was hard. It was like when you’re addicted to something. […]. It was hard to stop.”

Dr Mills commented: “These views are important to capture, especially when working with relevant charities that support children, young people and families directly. The educational work of charities such as YGAM is more important than ever during the current challenges of lockdown.”

Dr James Ash, the research lead, added: “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.

“The advice helps parents understand why children want to buy loot boxes. Reasons include advancing or speeding up game progress, competing with friends, customising characters with the latest or rarest skins, or participating in special events.”

Not only has the research helped shaped the new Parent Hub, it will be used by YGAM to help inform and develop their educational programmes so that all young and vulnerable people are safe from gaming and gambling related harms.

Amanda Atkinson, Head of Parental Engagement at YGAM, said: “The enormous variety of games and in-app purchases available can make it confusing for parents to keep on top of safety controls.

“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.”

Parents can access the advice at www.parents.ygam.org

In collaboration with GamCare, YGAM are delivering the UK’s ground-breaking National Gambling Education & 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.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 20/130


The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) is a national education charity with a social purpose to inform, educate, safeguard and build digital resilience amongst young and vulnerable people, helping them to make informed decisions and understand the consequences around gambling and gaming. 

The charity was set up in 2014, following their founders’ experiences with problem gambling.  

YGAM’s social purpose is guided by and contributes to the Gambling Commissions’ National Strategy to Reducing Gambling Related-Harms.

It’s education programmes and resources are available to anyone that works with or cares for young & vulnerable people, including teachers, youth workers, community volunteers and mental health specialists.

YGAM are on the Gambling Commissions published RET list of approved organisations to which gambling companies are permitted to make social responsibility financial contributions in order to meet their licence conditions.

The charity works closely with universities and students to raise awareness of gambling and gaming related harms, across campus to build digital resilience amongst the student population.  

Loughborough University 

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2020, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.