Many parents are increasingly finding that money has mysteriously drained from their bank accounts after their children have been purchasing in-game content on their consoles.
Often, the spending is on so-called loot boxes.
Found in games popular with children such as Fortnite and FIFA, loot boxes have been equated to money-vacuuming, slot machines which simulate gambling, but just how dangerous are loot boxes?
Here’s everything you need to know about them.
What are loot boxes?
A purchasable virtual item which can be unlocked to receive a range of further virtual items.
The contents of loot boxes vary from game to game. Rewards can range from the customisation of a player’s avatar to rare and sought after virtual weaponry.
These can be paid for with in game currency earned by playing, or with real money.
Why are they controversial?
Players are required to part with real money in order to obtain or unlock a loot box which may, or may not contain items that the player desires, which some equate to gambling.
Typically coveted items are less likely to appear in a loot crate, often encouraging players to purchase more loot boxes until they ‘hit the jackpot’ and attain a rare item.
Earlier this year Australian psychiatrists likened the in-game features to poker machines and warned that they can lead to overspending.
In one case a FIFA player found that he had spent $10,000 on loot boxes in virtual football game FIFA 19, via the game’s Ultimate Team mode.
Only this week Belgian prosecutors launched an investigation against EA Sports over the organisation’s refusal to remove a loot box feature from FIFA 19.
Which games feature loot boxes?
The loot box feature can be found in the FIFA, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Gears of War, Halo, Counter-Strike, Overwatch and Fortnite, as well as a multitude of other games.
The appearance of the loot box varies from game to game.
In FIFA, for instance, players part with real or in-game money to purchase a “pack” containing cards featuring players which they can then add to their own team.
In Counter-Strike, players can purchase crates containing weapons that offer them an edge against online opponents.
How much do they cost?
Prices vary dramatically from game to game.
In FIFA 18 gamers can by smaller packs of players for 150 points (equating to roughly £1.50), or the largest pack costing 2,500 (equating to roughly £25).
In Overwatch players can buy just two loot boxes for £1.99 or purchase 50 boxes for £34.99.
At the end of last year Fantasy MMO (Massively multiplayer online) game Rift were forced to remove a loot box costing $99.99.
Can I stop my child from purchasing them?
Steps can be taken to prevent your child from purchasing loot boxes.
Parents can prevent their children from running up unwanted bills by ensuring that no credit card is associated with their account or console.
If your child’s console of a choice is an Xbox or Playstation it is also possible to create a child account for your child’s use which will prevent them from registering a credit card and purchasing loot boxes.
Parents who share their console with a child can password protect their account and prevent them from making unwanted purchases.
Be wary that if your child uses an adult account and purchases in game content, parents will be unable to claim a refund.