More than 850 people have come to the video game addiction clinic

More than 850 people have been referred to a clinic for video game addicts as experts warn the UK is not doing enough to address gambling-style features in games on mobile phones and consoles.

The National Center for Gaming Disorders (NCGD), which had its first patient in 2020, originally received funding from the NHS on the basis of only seeing 50 people a year. But the specialist clinic in London has been treating 30 people a month since the end of March this year, more than seven times the expected demand, bringing the total to 855.

Enlaces Patrocinados:

About a third of players receiving heals said they spent money on loot boxes, gambling-style features that offer random rewards like weapons or character outfits that can’t legitimately be exchanged for cash. Experts say these features, which have proven highly lucrative for game companies, are normalizing gaming behaviors in young people, delivering the tide of rewards that can solidify addiction.

Certain games are especially likely to be referred to by addicts, according to analysis of treatment sessions.

During 2021 and 2022, nearly 12% of patients who played video games compulsively reported playing Fortnite, with 10% mentioning Minecraft, 8% mentioning Call of Duty, and 4.7% uses the Roblox gaming platform.

The clinic offers help to gamers, more than half of whom are children and family members, such as parents. Of the 855 referrals, 408 were players, including 227 under the age of 18.

Patients reported complete disruption of family relationships, violence and children’s refusal to go to school.

Loot boxes have become increasingly common in gaming because they offer the gaming industry an ongoing source of revenue after the game’s initial sale.

Examples of loot boxes include the Fifa Football Series Player Packs, which offer a random selection of footballers. Players can pay up to 87.99 at a time for packs of points which can be used to purchase packs.

According to some estimates, industry revenue from loot boxes will reach $20 billion ($15 billion) annually by 2025.

Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder and director of the NCGD, said: Monetizing gaming through the purchase of loot boxes and advertising such gambling-like features in games is normalizing gambling behaviors in youth.

We need reassurance that protective regulation of these products will be implemented. We need to take online harm seriously.

Last year, then culture secretary Nadine Dorries rejected calls to regulate loot boxes as gambling products, as they are in other countries, saying the gaming industry could regulate itself. . She said studies had shown a correlation between loot boxes and gambling addiction, but that it wasn’t clear whether the connection was causal.

But experts told the Guardian that Britain was lagging behind other countries, saying a preference for self-regulation seemed increasingly misguided.

Countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Australia have classified loot boxes as gambling or have taken steps to do so.

Sarah Mills, professor of human geography at Loughborough University, said: The UK is lagging behind; the trials went on. You pointed to a number of recent studies adding to the weight of evidence that have shown a connection between loot boxes and problem gambling.

[A game] offers joy on Christmas Day, but parents are often unaware that there will be repeated requests for small amounts of money that could amount to hundreds or thousands of pounds, Mills said.

The app stores used by Apple and Android phone users are increasingly offering games with gambling-style mechanics, such as slot machines.

Screenshot of a loot from a video game
A booty. Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Australia have classified loot boxes as gambling or have taken steps to do so. Cinematography: Blizzard Entertainment

Leon Xiao, a loot box expert and PhD student at the IT University of Copenhagen, said there are informal standards for these games, such as requiring information about the probability of winning on a spin of slot machines to be published, but even these do not are respected.

Apple says if you want to upload your game to the Apple Store, you have to make revelations about the likelihood of random features, he said. We audited in 2021 and a third of businesses weren’t doing it. The existing legislation is not applied.

One reason why random prizes in games aren’t regulated as gambling is that, in theory, the rewards are digital only and cannot be exchanged for currency.

But Mills said this was an outdated understanding of how young people value play items.

The Gambling Commission has also previously taken action against third-party companies that allow players to sell digital items for money or even use them as currency for betting.

Following the government’s decision not to regulate loot boxes, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as it was then known, set up a games industry working group to look into loot boxes, which is expected to report on its progress within a few weeks.

A government spokesman said: It is important to ensure that gamers, especially children, can enjoy video games safely. We are working with the industry to strengthen protections for players and will release an update shortly.

The government’s response to the request for evidence of loot boxes determined that the gaming industry can and should go further to protect children and adults from harm.

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