Guest blogger, Leon Y. Xiao who recently explained in our previous blog the potential dangers of in-game purchases, has listed three essential steps you can do as a parent, guardian or carer to keep a young person in your life safe from the potential dangers of in-game purchases.
1. Turn on parental control settings
Nearly all devices (both mobile phones and game consoles) now provide adults with the option to better control the content that your child sees and can engage with. Many companies also provide ‘parent guides,’ which are worth reading as they list many available parental control features. Parental control settings can moderate content based on age rating or limit screen time amongst other things. With loot boxes in particular, adults should take advantage of the ability to limit or restrict in-game/app purchases made by children.
This may be done on various platforms as follows.
- Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.):
- Android mobile devices using the Google Play Store
- Nintendo Switch
- Sony PS4 and PS5
- Microsoft Xbox
The procedures might be a little complicated to follow, but this is well worth the effort as you can directly control and decide when purchases are made. Depending on the device and settings, the child’s account will either be unable to make purchases at all, or you will be set up to receive notifications directly to your device, which will allow you to approve any purchases manually.
At the same time, you should consider not storing your payment information (such as credit card details) on devices that your child might use to prevent accidental and unintended purchases.
2. Look out for PEGI loot box presence warning labels
PEGI is the organisation that provides age ratings for video games in Europe, such as the PEGI 16 rating. The organisation now attaches a label stating ‘In-game Purchases (Includes Random Items)’ for games with loot boxes and other gambling-like features.
This label can be found on the physical packaging for console games (Nintendo Switch; Sony PlayStation; and Microsoft Xbox). However, it often only appears on the back of the game case and also in relatively small text font, but it is there if you look for it. If a game is purchased through the online console stores (PlayStation Store or Xbox Catalogue), you can find the label first thing when you click on the game you want to purchase. My research has found that, generally, the label can be relied upon to indicate whether the game contains these gambling-like features for console games.
However, on mobile phone platforms, it becomes more difficult to gain access to information on loot box presence. The Apple App Store does not allow for games to easily disclose whether they contain loot boxes. Games are inconsistently labelled on the Google Play Store, although popular games that were more recently released should be correctly labelled. You might need to do more, like read through the reviews left for the game to better understand whether a mobile game contains loot boxes.
It’s important to pay attention to labels to help you decide whether your child should play the game. Some games containing in-game purchases might still provide a good gameplay experience, even for players who do not spend additional money on loot boxes. Some games containing randomised in-game purchases might also be the games of choice for a child’s friendship group. So multiple factors should be balanced when deciding whether your child should be able to play a certain game. Using parental control features that seek to limit spending but still allow your child to play the underlying game might be more advisable than prohibiting certain games from being played entirely.
3. Play the games and speak to your child about their experiences
It is difficult to identify hidden gambling like in-game purchases so to understand the games your child plays, you should try playing the game yourself and speak with your child about what they are spending their time and money on. It helps address the potential harms of loot boxes directly.
If you are worried that your child is experiencing these harms or would like to find out more information on how to help your child, reach out to our Young People’s Service.