19/07/2019

Online Gaming Debt: A New Frontier for Parents

19/07/2019

Online Gaming Debt: A New Frontier for Parents

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If you are not a Gamer, you may not realise it, but online gaming is becoming a huge source of financial hardship for some individuals and families across the UK, including Scotland.

There is now a steady stream of horror stories coming to light of children, some as young as 10, running up hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of debt on their parent’s credit cards and bank accounts without their knowledge.

The problem doesn’t just affect children. Last year it was revealed a professional footballer, who has remained anonymous, used data protection laws to ask EA, an American gaming company, how much he had spent on online games. The answer was $10,000 over two years.

He has since said “it was not worth it”.

More recently, parents have been keen to tell their own stories, after the BBC revealed that four under 10-year olds emptied their parent’s bank account whilst playing EA’s FIFA football game.

The children ran up a bill of £550 after watching how their father made an £8 online purchase for them, and then left his account unprotected, with no parental controls or pin number.

This has led to more stories, such as that of a 22-year-old with learning difficulties and the cognitive abilities of a 7-year-old, who ran up £3,160 in one game called Hidden Artefacts, exhausting his savings.

Or the story of a 16-year-old who ran up £2,000 on his parent’s bank card playing an online basketball game; or the 12-year-old who spent £700 playing a game called Clash of Clans.

Online Gaming purchases are not gambling, they are “Kinder Eggs”

The recent focus on the problem follows controversial comments made last month by the Vice President of EA, Kerry Hopkins, who told MPs that their “Loot Boxes” are not online gambling, but like Kinder Eggs.

However, not everyone agrees. Scientists from York found links between “Loot Boxes”, which allow players to purchase extra characters, and problem gambling.

The problem is like gambling, gaming and Loot Boxes often causes the same feelings in player that gambling does. The urge to take another shot, the hope you will be lucky next time, the same feeling of euphoria when you win and disappointment when you lose.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that when people buy Loot Boxes, they don’t know what they are buying, so there is an element of chance and risk, with gamers often making multiple purchases in the hope of getting their favourite footballer in games like EA’s FIFA.

Like with gambling, when gamers don’t get what they want, there is disappointment and the urge to try again in the hope of being lucky next time.

Not Real Money

The problem is compounded, particularly for children, in that often games use in-house currency to make purchases, which have made up names like “Lapis”, making gamers feel like the currency is not real. However, with Lapis costing £20 for 5,000, it is real money.

There is now a growing call for the gaming industry to be treated like gambling and to be regulated in the same way.

Deputy Labour Party Leader, Tom Watson, has recently tweeted, for example, that the story of children running up huge debts “highlights considerable fears that gaming is a gateway to gambling, with boys and girls hooked in at ridiculously young ages by loot boxes.”

There are now calls for the UK to follow the lead of other countries like Belgium which has launched its own investigation and the US State of Hawaii, which has vowed to crack down on “predatory” practices like Loot Boxes.  Also the UK Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man, has also taken steps which now mean in-game purchases are caught by regulations.

What can Parents Do?

Parents can take their own steps to protect their children, by ensuring accounts are locked and parental controls are in place, including pin numbers.

They should also make sure that receipts from in-game purchases are sent to a monitored email address, which can act as an early warning system that purchases are being made on an account.

Below is also a quick guide to further steps that can be taken::

  • Nintendo Switch: Log in using the parental account then click “Family Group”. Select the family member’s account you want to restrict and click “restrict spending in Nintendo’s e-shop”.
  • PS4: You should set up a separate account for children. The default amount is automatically set a zero.
  • iPhone or iPads: You will need to set up a parental account. Go to Screen Time on the device, then go to content and privacy restrictions and activate “content and privacy”. Go to iTunes and App Store Purchases and set to don’t allow.
  • Xbox One: select the Xbox symbol on the controller. Go to Systems, then settings. Access Account and sign-in. Then go through security and enter your passkey. Then select “change my sign-in” and select customise and then select “ask for my passkey to make purchases”.

If you are struggling with debt and would like to speak to an advisor, contact us on 0808 2085 195.

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