Did you know that mainstream video games increasingly contain elements that may promote gambling behavior in young people? What are “loot boxes”, casino-type video games, skin gambling, other hidden and more obvious monetization devices that promote betting among players? How do I know whether my child is susceptible to problematic gambling in video games and online social gaming communities?
Children and Screens’ #AskTheExperts webinar “The Lure of Loot: Gambling and Manipulative Design in Youth Video Games,” held on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 at 12pm via Zoom, explored the behavioral impacts on children and teens of gambling elements within video games. A panel of psychologists, researchers, and gambling addiction experts shared ways that parents and educators can identify problematic video games, spot the warning signs of gambling addiction in their children, and start a dialogue to help children think critically about the manipulative design techniques present in so much of their online entertainment.
Jeffrey L. Derevensky, PhDJames McGill Professor; Professor; Directory
David Zendle, PhDLecturer
Leon Xiao, LLMPhD Fellow; Visiting Scholar
Kev ClellandDirector of Insight and Engagement
“[Kris Perry]: Welcome everyone to today’s Ask the Experts webinar. “The Lure of loot, gambling and manipulative design in youth video games.” I am your host, Kris Perry, Executive Director of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Loot Boxes. Skin Gambling. Micro Transactions. If you don’t play video games, these terms might sound like a foreign language. Yet are common elements in modern games, many of which are played by children of all ages. However exciting and innocent these things may seem, there is growing concern that these features are promoting gambling behaviors in youth and addictive patterns that can inflict serious harm. Children and screens recently joined Fair Play and several child advocacy groups in calling on the Federal Trade Commission to further investigate these mechanisms. Today, we have brought together an expert panel to talk about what these gaming elements are, how they promote gambling behaviors, how they may be associated with gaming and gambling addictions, and what governments could be doing to protect youth against these manipulative practices. They will also share some practical advice so you know what to look out for and how to intervene with your own children at home. Now it is my great pleasure to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Derrick Bensky. Dr. Drew PINSKY is the James McGill Professor of Educational and Counseling Psychology, a professor of psychiatry, director of the International Center for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors and director of the Youth Gambling, Research and Treatment Clinic at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has published widely in the field of gambling, adolescents, behavioral addictions and developmental psychopathology for over 30 years and continues to consult with governments and gambling operators internationally. Welcome, Jeffrey.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Well, thank you, Kris, and thanks for the invitation. And I want to thank my fellow panelists who are excellent experts in the field. This is a growing problem, as you initially mentioned, that individuals are starting to see the convergence between gambling and gaming. And while we typically think of gambling as more of an adult activity, we know from a lot of research that young people are actually gambling and then gambling for money and getting into difficulties with their peers, getting into difficulties with their parents.So this presentation and this panel today, we will be discussing the convergence between gambling and gaming and looking at recommendations for parents, as well as looking at various countries that have started to regulate this convergence between gambling and gaming. So it’s my great pleasure to begin today by welcoming Dr. David Zendle, who is a behavioral data scientist, world leading expert on the social impact of video games, notably authoring the world’s most highly cited paper on the topic of loot boxes, which you’ll learn much more about today. And he’s an academic affiliate of the Behavioral Insights Team, lecturing computer science at the University of York in the UK. And he holds an honorary research post within the National Health Service within the UK. It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr. Zendle.
[Dr. David Zendle]: And it’s my pleasure to be here. It’s really an honor. So thank you. Thank you for having me. And today I’m going to be sort of setting the seed, I think, for all my other panelists by talking about what is this convergence of gaming and gambling, what are the phenomena we’re talking about. In order to understand these phenomena, it’s important to start back, back where it all began. So, when I was a kid, this is what video games looked like. This is Prince of Persia. This is the game that I was playing. This is the guy that my friends would play. And this was a highly lucrative game, but it was based around the old fashioned traditional model of monetization in which you try to convince as many people as possible to hand over as much money as possible in return for one of these. It’s a game as a product. And if you can get enough people to give you more money for that thing that costs to produce you could turn a profit. The problem with this is it’s incredibly high risk. So you’re spending ages developing a game, you’re losing money as a studio, you’re producing the game, maybe you’re building boxed copies, maybe you’re advertising, you’re losing money. You’re selling it, you’re losing money. You’re kind of risking millions of millions of dollars in the hopes that you’re going to make all that money back and more during a relatively narrow window surrounding release. And if you don’t do that, you’re toast, you’re bankrupt. So for ages, the games industry has been searching for a way to smooth out revenues and make themselves less high risk, it’s natural. And the dominant strategy that they settled on at the moment is to not treat games as products, but instead treat them as their own kind of savvy, unregulated sales platforms and make the majority of their cash duck inside the game itself, but by using the game as a platform to sell up effects and in the West, this kind of start of this game oblivion by 50, 20 years ago, well, you’d already spent $60 buying a box copy of this game at the banks say like, hey, I know you spent $60, but for an extra $2, how about you give us some money? You get this cool offer for the game you can’t buy anywhere else and people are kind of outraged, but they still bought it. That makes them begin to start to break out more and more, you know, items, and houses, and things you could buy in there. And this sort of, like, sales market this use of games as platforms to sell boosts and items and services, conservatively makes over a hundred billion. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s many times that amount, because you can say, well, it makes sense. You’ve got you don’t call a Jack and Jack and Rabbit you just paid for. You just brought out a game, and you’re continually rapidly making. You’re just monetizing it over time. You’re just bringing out new products to that market continually and smoothly. But this also presents problems and probably the most well known to them is loot boxes. So these are items of games that can be bought with real world money, but which contain randomized contents. So that just like that whole cyber example, I was going to earlier. Except in this case you’re not handing over $2 for a thing that you know or a piece of armor,you’re handing over $2 stereotypically for a sealed box. It’s only occasionally you get to open the box and find out if it’s something great or something rubbish in it. Like ten years ago, these were unheard of, right? So in 2010, about 4% to 5% sessions took place with loot boxes. By 2014, a desktop that shot up to more than half of play sessions. And now it’s probably somewhere 70, 80%, something like that. And it just seems to be growing. In 2019, we did some research and we sort of found out that maybe the top 59% of mobile games, top grossing mobile games, have loot boxes. Leon Shaw who’s another panelist, updated this in 2012. It got even worse as sites are much more prevalent, it’s getting stronger rather than weaker. The reason why we’re all so concerned is because spending money in loot boxes looks a lot like spending money on gambling in many important ways. There are lots of really crucial formal similarities between gambling services, products and loot boxes. And indeed, when you talk to young people about spending money on loot boxes, they kind of talk about it in a way that’s very similar to what you anticipate in maybe the gambling divide. You know, it feels good seeing people. Okay, hundreds get a few that feels good. Keeps me going addicted, really reaching into the unknown. And in fact, the more money you spend on loot boxes, the more likely you are to suffer from gambling problems as well. But that’s not all we have to worry about anymore, unfortunately. So this is just the, this is the Google Play Store top grossing games. Just taken on a random day. All of these are what we call social casinos. So these are games in which you could spend real money to buy gambling chips. You can engage in simulated gambling activities. You can never cash out your earnings and because of that they’re not typically regulated as gambling products by governments and thus are available to youth about a wide uptake amongst youth. But like this is what they look like if you’re spending real money on these chips. This is twitch. It’s a service which is best known for letting gamers interact with influencers who are playing games. You know, young people use this all the time, but this is a big subsection of which is the casino streams. You’re not watching your favorite influencers play pool or watch whatever it is you like. You’re watching them gamble thousands of dollars. And all these things are linked to gambling problems in just the same way as loot boxes. Complicating matters even further, like there’s a host of tactics that players are reporting as predatory that are just separate to gambling altogether. Instances where players reported feeling coerced or forced into spending things like strategies at which you have to pay to avoid negative consequences to the game and stop hurting your character or take things away from you. Will say, like. give us a few quid or that God or something bad is going to happen to them. We estimate that this kind of game dynamic designed to drive spending, appears in most top grossing mobile games now. What can we do? Well, I guess that’s kind of what people are going to talk about today. Self-regulation. That’s the industry’s favorite. I’m not entirely convinced it’s working. Government interventions around the world, I think, Leon will take a bit about that stuff. But again, it’s mixed, mixed results that labels are kind of controlled by shadowy corporations. We don’t really know why they’re attaching labels in the way that they are, it’s not clear that they’re helping parents. So education? And I know we’re going to hear more about that. Parental protection? You know, playing your games, understanding, being colearners with your children. And, indeed, partly activism. So there’s nothing quite like making a fuss about something that you hate. And that was the case with these and last week actually with these twitch casino streams, a bunch of streamers basically kept up robust, said they would withhold their labor unless something was done about this on Twitch. But as of like a week or two ago, a big subsection of them have been banned. So yeah, that’s kind of a state of play. I hope you found that helpful.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Well, thank you, David, for that short, brief, but very informative talk on loot boxes and the convergence between gaming and gambling, especially also looking at social casino games, which is also a growing problem. So you seem a little skeptical about getting the industry to voluntarily do, at least, notify parents that these things are occurring and ways in which they can actually modify their behavior in terms of regulating their operation. So what would you recommend to the gaming industry?
[Dr. David Zendle]: So I would say that at the moment the gaming industry seems to be taking an approach towards self-regulation, in which, from my perspective, they’re trying to see how far they can push it without making any significant changes. And it’s unclear how viable the strategy is going to be over the long haul. So it may be the case that this is actually like a rational ploy by the industry, right? You just basically carry on making out that there’s nothing wrong going on here and you hope that nobody really calls you on it and you hope that people turn the blind eye, particularly governments and regulators. I would say to industry, is this really who you want to be? Like, is like, you didn’t get into this as people purveying an addictive product. You got into this to create things, not to harm people. And you can’t be certain that what you’re doing isn’t harmful. So, I’d say, you need to interact in good faith with academics and independent researchers, or else you will holistically have done something awful with what was once a really joyful way of helping people. Yea, I don’t know.. It’s hard, Jeffrey, because at the moment what they’re doing seems to be working. I would argue that they are protecting their massive profits through their heavy lobbying work. So like.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: I appreciate very much your perspective and I think we’ll be talking more about that when we open the general discussion to the parents out there. The one thing I would also suggest is that’s how gambling used to be 25 years ago. And the industry’s actually moved towards more responsible gambling and now recognize that young people can get overly involved as well. So thank you again for your presentation and your answer to that question.
[Dr. David Zendle]: That’s very interesting. I look forward to more discussion, more discussion of the parallels between those two industries. That’s fascinating. Thank you.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: So I’m going to talk a little bit about gambling and gaming. Again, the convergence to take a slightly different approach than David has taken. But I think it’s still an important approach that we should be looking at, because as I mentioned previously, we typically think of gambling as an adult activity, but yet we do know that young people are actually gambling. And I’m going to show you some reasons why they’re gambling. What we know is that, in North America especially, but also around the world, that gambling has become normalized. We have increased availability, multiple types of gambling, easier, relatively easy accessibility. There’s an increased social acceptability amongst individuals that gambling is an okay, socially acceptable, recreational activity. There’s also a lack of awareness that gambling problems can negatively impact underage youth. And I’ll try to show you some reasons why that has occurred. And what we know is that more and more youth are not only gaming, but also gambling and engaging in other risky behaviors. We also know that gambling has become glamorized. And here we have our friend, Mr. Bond, who, in all his movies, is typically set in some casino operation. But we have other movies that are really based upon gambling themes, and this becomes important because they become very popular for not only adults, but also for young people and adolescents. And the question then is, can youth gambling be dangerous? And so here a young man walked into my office one day wearing this baseball cap and I asked him if I could take a picture of it. He said, no problem. But he said, if you lose 10,000 USD on PokerStars, they’ll send you one for free. So that seemed like a pretty expensive baseball cap to me. There are lots of motivations for gambling amongst young people as well as adults. Most individuals are gambling for the entertainment, for the recreation, and the pleasure. There’s also some competitiveness. People do it to relieve stress. They pass time very similar to the types of activities that they engage in when they’re gaming. And we know that problem gambling can actually negatively impact a wide variety of behaviors and so you can see on this particular graph that work and study skills are negatively impacted, personal issues, in terms of stress or in terms of suicidal ideation or anxiety, interpersonal problems with family members, legal problems and obviously financial problems. The industry has an adage, the more you gamble, actually, the more you’re going to lose. But there’s a changing face of gambling. And there are lots of concerns for youth. And the first I want to talk a little bit about is video games. And here for a console video game, you could play the Wii with the world championship of poker. What I’d like you to pay attention to, though, is over here in the corner, it says this is a good game for children 12 years and up. Here, for the Nintendo, we have Vegas casino nights. And again, this one was designated as appropriate for children or adolescents aged 12 and up. And finally, we have the PlayStation2 with the casino challenge where you’re playing lots of different casino type games. And interestingly enough, they’re talking about this being appropriate for children three years in age and up. And parents look at these as guidelines for purchasing these types of activities. There’s a real convergence between gambling and gaming. Dr. Zendle talked a lot about loot boxes. We know that online interactive gambling is occurring where every screen can be a gambling activity on your cell phone. Most gambling operators are actually making their games available on smartphones, and most young people are addicted to their smartphones. David originally talked a little bit about social casino gambling, and this is interesting because here we have a wide variety of operators who are engaging in developing games which don’t necessarily have to require money initially. But basically many of these games also have the unrealistic payouts. So, if a young child is watching or playing one of these games and is winning, he’s much more likely to want to transfer to a real activity. We know that sports wagering is going online throughout the United States and Canada and has been in Europe for a long time. This is a real problem. And we have eSports gambling. So we have eSports teams, teams that are playing video games, competitive video games. And here you can see a stadium filled with people just watching the game. We know that casino operators are actually starting to develop gambling odds on these teams. And so, not only do young people watch these teams, want to become video gamers, but they’re actually engaged in gambling online as well. The other thing I want to suggest is that most adults, most parents, don’t tend to underestimate that gambling is a problem for their youth. And so here you can see a table where we’ve done a number of studies. This is a compilation of the data. So the dark blue represents parents, the dark green represents teachers. We asked parents and teachers to tell us what are their concerns with respect to risky behaviors for adolescents. And here you can see that drug use is the most prominent. But look where gambling falls. Most parents and most teachers are unaware that gambling can become a risky behavior. So what do we know about the global prevalence of gambling problems amongst adolescents? Anywhere between three and 5% of adolescents are what we call probable, pathological, or compulsive or disordered gamblers Another 8 to 15% are at risk for developing a problem. And this translates into a wide number of young people who are experiencing gambling problems already. And we know that this is a problem that’s international in nature. So what can we do? Well, we need to build better gambling prevention curriculums, and we need to incorporate those into a wider mental health curriculum and all our research suggests that this should really begin at an early age, at about the ages of nine or ten or grades three and four, is a useful place to start. We need more public awareness regarding youth gambling. That this is not just an adult activity. We also need to monitor children’s online activities, as David suggested as well. The parent should not be purchasing scratch lottery tickets or gambling with their underage youth because we know that early gambling is a predictor of later problem gambling when they get older. For more information, you’re welcome to go on to our website which is youthgambling.com. Thank you. So it’s my pleasure now to introduce Leon Xiao, who is a Ph.D. fellow at the IT University of Copenhagen and a visiting scholar at the School of Law of Queen Mary, University of London. He’s an expert in video game law and has consulted on policy and regulation recommendations for governments and policy makers around the world. My pleasure. Welcome, Dr. Leon Xiao.
[Leon Xiao]: Thank you. So, Dr. Zendle and Professor Derevensky have already provided a very good overview of the issue. So what I’m going to specifically look at are the regulatory approaches, both by law and using some sort of industry measure in relation to loot boxes, which both previous panelists have touched on. I will be focusing on three case studies. Firstly, what is referred to as probability disclosures. These have been imposed as law in China only. And in other countries, such as the UK, the US, Canada, as industry self-regulation. Secondly, we’ll have a look at the ESRB’s warning label in relation to loot boxes. And then finally we’ll have a brief summary of the ban on loot boxes, in quotation marks, in Belgium. So, probability disclosures. These are these little notices that you will find, both inside a video game and sometimes on websites, where the game will tell you about the probabilities of obtaining the randomized reward from the video games that you play. For example, on the left screenshot, you can see that this game tells the player that they have a 51.69% chance of obtaining a Common Tier Hero. So this measure is intended to enhance the transparency of the purchasing process and to provide information to consumers so that a more informed decision could be made. And this has been required by law in China. We observed that among the games containing loot boxes in China, 95.6% of them disclosed probabilities. So that’s a very high compliance rate. However, the problem with Chinese law was that it allowed compliance in three different ways. So firstly, if the game makes a probability disclosure inside of a game, that’s compliant with the law. If alternatively, the game makes a probability disclosure on the official website, that’s also compliant with the law. And finally, if the game makes a probability disclosure both in-game and on the official website, that’s also complying with the law. So what we observed was that only about a third of video games actually disclose probabilities at both locations. Even though doing so obviously would have made the probability disclosure more accessible and more visually prominent. And so we would say the here companies have failed to maximize the potential consumer protection benefits of this particular measure. Now in the UK and in the US and North America generally, probability disclosures are not required by law. But the industry requires this in certain contexts. For example, Apple says that if you want to upload your game onto our platform, the Apple App Store, then you must disclose probabilities for your loot boxes. However, the situation that we observed in the UK was that only about two thirds of video games containing loot boxes complied with our self-regulation as compared to the 95.6% compliance rate with Chinese law. Now, about a third of games didn’t disclose probabilities, even though they were required to do so by Apple. And this, I think, is why many researchers share some skepticism in relation to industry self-regulation. Another point I’d like to bring up with the UK probability disclosures is that if you look at where the probability disclosures were made, you’ll find that only about a fifth of games would actually make a probability disclosure on a website. And so this is my first advice to parents, which is that I think that you should play the video games that your child plays, and you should also talk to them about the games that they play, because quite often you have situations where the information that you’re hoping to obtain is not something that you can just Google. You would actually have to go inside the game to be able to find that information. Now, turning next to the ESRB, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the age rating system in use in North America. I’m sure the symbols on the right hand side are very familiar to you. In 2020, the ESRB introduced this label, which is circled in this screenshot on the right hand side, of in-game purchases, in brackets, Includes Random Items. If a game contains loot boxes or any other in-game purchases with a randomized element, the ESRB will put that label underneath the age rating and this will be displayed both on the physical packaging or in relation to games that you simply download digitally. For example, on the Apple App Store, which I have a screenshot here, if you click on the age rating, you would be able to access this pop up screen and you can see the label there as well. So, we don’t actually know whether or not this label has been effectively complied with in the sense that we haven’t checked whether or not all the games containing loot boxes are displaying this label. However, and I think the second advice I have for parents, is that what we do know is that you should look out for these labels. If you see a game, if you see the game, pass this label, then we know that that game definitely has loot boxes. So this would be a way for you to identify these mechanics to address the potential harms. Now turning to the situation in Belgium. So, gambling law was drafted very differently in Belgium, such that it was possible to ban loot boxes. Any loot box that required the player to spend real world money to buy and was subsequently randomized, will constitute illegal gambling in Belgium. And, so, what we expect to see would be that we should not be able to find any loot boxes in Belgium. Now we know that some companies removed blue boxes from Belgian versions of games and we know that some companies simply remove their games from the Belgian market entirely. However, is it true that we really cannot find loot boxes in Belgium anymore? Well, I went there earlier this year, and I played the 100 highest grossing games in Belgium. And what I found was that 82% of them still contained a loot box. And what this means is that the ban, unfortunately, has not worked. And the Belgian Gaming Commission, their regulator, who’s in charge of enforcing this law, has confirmed to me that this is because they simply do not have the resources to check the compliance of, well, more than a million games on the iPhone markets alone. And here are some screenshots just to show you that, yes, I did go and see that the purchased price tag is at euros. Now, the Belgian banning loot boxes has been unsuccessful and I think one of the worst things about the current situation is that the government has given players and parents the impression that loot boxes have been banned and that these things have been removed. Now, this might have led to some parents thinking that, “oh, we’re safe, our children are safe, and we don’t need to talk about loot boxes anymore because the law has been applied,” when the situation in reality is that the loot boxes are still there and the harms are obviously still present. And so my advice to parents number three, and I thought rather unfortunate that I have to say this, but even if some sort of law or industry self-regulation has been imposed to regulate these mechanics, I think parents should still be conscious of the potential harms because you can never trust these things to be perfectly effective in all situations. Now, I would just like to end very quickly on China’s restrictions on video game play in post last year. So, since September of last year, in China, young people under the age of 18 are only allowed to play video games between the hours of eight and nine in the evening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and that is it: 3 hours a week. Now, I think many Western parents would likely prefer to have a bit more flexibility in relation to controlling their children’s gameplay time. And also I think whether or not children can play video games could be something that can be used as an incentive when negotiating with children about other things. So I would just like to end by saying that I do not think very restrictive measures are necessarily the most appropriate option, whether to playing video games in general or in relation to loot boxes. And of course would be more than happy to answer any questions and I look forward to the discussion. Thank you very much.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Thank you, Leon. Really interesting presentation, as always. I have a question with respect to the probability disclosure. Those seem to be targeting parents more than children. Do you think it’s effective for young people to know what the probability of disclosure is in terms of the loot box? For example, getting the prize that you’re trying to get? Or, young people just feel like “I’m smarter, I’m more lucky than other kids, and I’m more likely to get the actual prize that I’m seeking.”
[Leon Xiao]: Of course. Yeah, I think I would agree with you, that I think you’re right that these probability disclosures are targeted at adult players and probably in relation to child plays for their parents. And I think you’re absolutely right. We’ve observed some probability disclosures where it will go to six decimal points. So you have 0.000, etc., that sort of detail. And we also found examples where it didn’t add up to 100% or they just disclosed a range of values. It would be between 0.5% or 2%. Stuff like that. I think even in relation to adult plays, people may struggle to understand exactly what that means and I do believe we have existing research from gambling content to suggest that information about how much you are likely to lose by playing a gambling game are really not well understood by people who participate in gambling either. So you’re absolutely right. And I think one way perhaps to target that is perhaps to make the probability disclosures in a graphic way. For example, to present it not as percentage values but perhaps as a pie chart, etc., that might be more easily understandable to children, I think. But of course, we still need very much more empirical research on this.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]:
Do you think we could use a stoplight metaphor where we have red indicating that your probability is really low, or yellow, which is slightly better? Green would be great, but indicating that the red lights would be a very low probability of winning the price that you’re looking for.
[Leon Xiao]: Yeah, I think that that’s definitely something that could be trialed. Another thing that you just made me think of is perhaps placing some little skull symbols or icons alongside the very rare items just to show how hard they are to get, how “hard” they are to get in terms of probabilities.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: That’s great. Thank you. There are a lot more questions and we’ll get to the audience soon. We have one more presentation by Kev Clelland. Kevin is the director of Insight and Engagement at the Youth Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust, or YGAM. And he’s responsible for developing collaborations with researchers, strategic stakeholders and organizations to ensure that the charity continues to inform, educate, and safeguard children and young people against both gaming and gambling harms.
[Kev Clelland]: Thank you and thanks, Jeff, and thank you Children and Screens for having me at this fantastic event. Now, we’ve already heard from some brilliant speakers exploring gambling elements within video gaming and the impacts that these can have on children and teens. And as Jeff mentioned, I want to talk to you about the strategies that we as adults can employ to support young people and ensure that they enjoy a healthy relationship with gaming. So let me start by telling you a little bit about our organization. We are an award winning charity based in the UK with a social purpose, as Jeff mentioned, to inform, educate and safeguard children and young people against gaming and gambling harms. The Way Game was founded on the lived experience of gambling harms, and that those harms included the lived experience of our founder and patron, Anne Evans, who’s a former primary school teacher like myself and son died of suicide in 2010, aged 40, after a prolonged battle with his gambling harm, which dated back to his teenage years. And we passionately believe that harm prevention education has a crucial role to play. Education that’s targeted at not just young people, but at teachers, youth workers, staff at universities and colleges, health professionals and, of course, parents. Now on the left, you can see our portfolio of education programs that are all independently evaluated and that we offer free of charge to people living and working in the UK. But why are we here? Now, we’ve heard lots of evidence already today, but let’s look at some quickly, look at some evidence in the UK. So in the UK we have the Gambling Commission, which is the industry regulator, and they publish young people in the gambling report annually. Now, due to COVID, the last piece of robust data that they provided came in 2019. It was an online survey of just under 3,000 11 to 16 year olds in England, Scotland and Wales. And it found, as we can see from this chart, that 11% of them had participated and spent their own money on gambling in the past seven days. Now, if we put that on a national scale, it equates to approximately 350,000 1116 year olds. But as we can see from this chart as well, they also looked at how to put levels of gambling participation in a wider context. Looking at those are the potentially harmful activities. And Jeff spoke really clearly about how some of those other activities are viewed as being potentially more harmful or give them more prominence among parents, among professionals. But as we can see here, gambling came second on that list in terms of the participation levels. And as we can also see on the right, evidence also shows that those who are gambling are also more likely to be participating in these other activities. Now, these activities have been topics of discussion both inside and outside the home for years. And it is why again, we feel that we need to adopt a similar approach with gambling. And finally, these are just some of the figures that looked at the levels of young people who are experiencing significant harms because of their gambling. It talks about problem gamblers out there in the UK. We’ve started to move away from using that term and problem gambler in terms of because of the stigma and shame that can sometimes cause to that person who is experiencing harm. Again, as we can see there, significant numbers up there as well. And we also feel the same about gaming. And we changed our name in 2019 to include gaming in our title. So we became the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust, as we looked at gaming harms as well as gambling harm since 2018. Now we do take a balanced approach to gaming. We look at the positives as well as those areas of concern. But this includes that convergence between gaming and gambling that we’re obviously here to talk about today. And for four years now, we’ve spoken about loot boxes, relying on the fantastic research that’s out there that you’ve heard about this morning as well. And we also work with a number of researchers in the UK to better understand both the mechanics used in these in-game transactions, but also how they’re making children and young people feel: the excitement that’s generated when they open the loot box, the desire to win these rare items, and the peer pressure and frustration that they’re experiencing if they don’t get the items that they hoped for. Now, that same gambling commission report that I mentioned previously found that 23% of the 11 to 16 year olds that we spoke to had paid money to open a loot box to get in-game items. As we’ve already heard, there are other concerns as well. So, we’ve got eSports which Jeff talks about – that competitive video gaming. It usually has that spectator element as we can see up there. But also we’ve also got huge viewing figures online as well. And there we’ve got that image from the 2019 League of Legends World Championships where we’ve got over 20,000 people in the stadium. But it was also broadcast in 16 languages, reaching an online audience of 44 million viewers. It’s a particular appeal to younger people with the average age of an eSport strategist is 21, and it’s enjoyed huge market growth during COVID when traditional sports were limited. And then finally, David mentioned these as well and Jeff touched on them. That mobile gaming. We all have mobile phones these days, including our children. And on them we can play a multitude of games, often for free, but many of them feature gambling mechanisms like roulette wheels and slot machines and use gambling vocabulary, further normalizing that behavior. And we’ve got games like this one. Pirate King is not only a popular game in the UK, but a popular game across the world as well, where players have pirates and they control lots of exotic islands in quest for gold artifacts and revenge. It’s a game where you progress. Progression, though, is determined by a slot machine mechanism, as you’ll see from this extremely short, brief video. Now Pirate King’s only carries a PEGI rating, which is the equivalent over here of the ESRB ratings in the UK of three plus on the Google Play Store. As it contains no objectionable material, the game only features simulated gambling and only virtual money is involved. However, players are often encouraged to buy virtual currency to earn more spends and receive push notifications on the device and even when they’re trying to take those screen breaks as well. But back onto loot boxes now, we’ve heard Leon talk about regulation and policy strategies. And in the UK, after a two year inquiry, the government decided against installing loot box regulation. Chose not to put them under existing gambling regulations. Instead, they’ve called on video games industry to improve customer protections and amongst its recommendations were increased parental supervision, transparent loot box mechanics, and improve research. But as we’ve already heard from Leon, David and Jeff, the skepticism over that self-regulation, which means education is therefore crucial. Wherever we live in the world, you don’t know what you don’t know. In our education, resources for schools and youth organizations, and that’s the relevant curriculum in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our long term plans also see these topics and themes revisited year on year, going from the age of seven, points all the way through 16 education through that university experience as well. And the topics are revisited, increasing that challenge, broadening the scope, and deepening that student’s thinking year on year. Now, wherever possible, we also look, as we can see up here, to provide opportunities for collaboration and for reflection as well. But parents also have a key role to play. And on our online platform, the parent hub, we provide easy to digest information about gaming and gambling. We look to demystify that world of video gaming, looking at the different types of loot boxes. We have a games glossary. We have detailed explanations of the games rating system in the UK, the PEGI rating system, and we also have information there about the games that loot boxes appear in and offer advice on how to talk to young people about their purchases. We also provide information on how to spot the signs of harm and where to access, help and support. And then finally, the key takeaway, though, for parents, is to follow what we call at YGAM, the “Play Rules.” It’s about how you need to play with your kids, understand the games that they are playing and why they play them. Talk to them about gaming. Show that real keen interest to understand what they’re involved with. And also then you will understand those PEGI rating systems better. You’ll understand which of those games are potentially riskier for them to be playing and learn about those family controls. Obviously there’s a whole variety of them. I think we could all on the panel talk about the different controls that are out there and, but really, try and follow some of the great advice websites that are out there. Ask your kids what they think. Discuss those ground rules before putting any restrictions in place and then really be in charge. You don’t have to be an expert to have these conversations with young people. Let them be clear. Set those restrictions that work for your family as well. The key takeaway, though, today, is to remember the important role that education plays, both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. If we are to prevent harm, regardless of whatever legislation may be in place. We’re here to help at WYGAM, no matter where you are in the world, so please and do you get in touch. Thank you.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Thanks, Kev. That was a great presentation. I’m wondering how parents can actually compete with the vivid graphics that you presented in Pirate Kings. These are so enticing to young people. And then the flipside is that parents are also concerned about a whole lot of other issues with respect to their children, not just gaming and gambling. As I showed in my presentation, there are a host of problems that people are confronted with today. But I have a question in terms of the impact of COVID? There’s a lot of North American research that seemed to suggest that parents were turning more towards gaming and letting their children play for longer periods of time in gaming because they wanted to occupy their time when they weren’t in school. So what can we do as parents to compete with that?
[Kev Clelland]: I think it’s a really good point, Jeff. And I’m a parent myself over here in Yorkshire, in the UK. And even as a former teacher found that home schooling situation a challenge and also found gaming for my kids to be a real respite at different points as well for them in a way for them to stay in touch. And we do talk about, you know, some of the benefits, the positives of gaming around that sort of socializing. It can be a stress buster. It can be that escapism, etc.. And in some cases, it can involve, you know, real mastery that people can become experts and superstars and make lots and lots of money. But it does carry that level of harm, potential harm, that’s out there. So I would encourage parents really to be aware of how to spot the signs of harm that the World Health Organization talks about, but also to be mindful that the World Health Organization were also really clear that those signs of harm had to be displayed consistently, didn’t they, up for a period? I think it was at least 12 months. So it’s not to jump to those conclusions straightaway. And also know where to access help and support. I think that’s always a big question that we face, is where is that help and support? And I think the initial sort of point of help and support staff starts at home. So to understand why certain games, carry and PEGI ratings or whatever that age rating may be around the world and treat it with that equal sort of seriousness of how we treat, you know, films that are screened as well around the world as well.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: That’s great. Thank you. Just as a point of information to the listeners, The World Health Organization is now preparing a brief for parents talking about the warning signs that you suggested and you talked about briefly and also the things that they can do to try to minimize the harms associated with excessive gaming and excessive gambling. So that’s really important. So I’d like to thank all the presenters for their valuable information. And there’s obviously a convergence between us on the panel with respect to our perspectives on how parents should be looking at gaming and gambling and the things that they should be looking for so we can open it up to, well, ask parents or anyone in the audience to submit questions through the Q&A. And there have been a number of pre-submitted audience questions which I’ll try to go through or at least touch upon. So I throw this open to the panel. Now, what do you do when you and your partner, who happens to be a gamer, disagrees on gaming for your child? Should we take the middle of the road? Should we do something like they’re doing in China, where gamers can only game at a certain hour of the day for a limited amount of time? We’ve had young people, we’ve had parents who have actually locked the modem in a closet with a timer on it. So it will go on and off at a certain time. So I ask any of the panel members to jump in. Any suggestions to parents? How they can get on the same page? We know that gamers are also adults. So it’s not just in children, they’re also modeling this for their children. David?
[Dr. David Zendle]: So, I hesitate. I won’t give personal advice as my child is 11 months old so we don’t have to worry about this for a while. But I think it’s, it’s always important to differentiate the diversity of things that pull up to the bracket of gaming and how different the outcomes could be from different ways of engaging with different games. So, to some extent, we spend this seminar discussing the dark side of the I, I don’t recall it, the action of the market because that’s so prevalent. But, we’re discussing specific games, specific phenomena, specific monetization types, specific patterns of interaction. And if there’s evidence that your child is engaging, say, heavily with loot boxes or with social casinos or something like that, then I think that there’s a fairly good evidence base that says maybe you and your partner could have a serious conversation about whether this is something that you think is terrific for their health. But beyond that, I think it’s also important to point out that like lots of, I don’t want to say, presumably I would guess the vast majority of gaming, we don’t really know where it’s headed with the industry sort of changing all the time. But the vast majority of gaming is healthy, right? People could get huge amounts of social benefits from gaming. For many children, games like Fortnite are a social medium, just the way things like Twitter or Facebook are for us. And so, when we cut off children from these games because of fear of these potential harms, we also cut them off from benefits. So, it’s not really advice, it’s more just a monologue. I guess if I had to finish it off with a point –
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Leon, did you want to jump in, or? No?
[Dr. David Zendle]: My point would be, it depends what your child is doing in the game. And I think it’s up to you to sit down with your partner and work out whether these ideas you have about the extent that gaming are aligned with what we know about the things that go on.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Yeah, I think you make a really good point as well, David, when you talk about the positive impact of gaming. There are benefits to gaming and occasionally, if a young person is involved in purchasing loot boxes, that may not be the biggest problem. It’s only when they’re doing it excessively, or when they’re stealing money in order to do it, or they’re not doing their school work or academic work or other activities, which preclude them from, which is being interfered by their gaming, which is really important. Let me throw another question out to the panel, and that is, “should the policies and regulations focus more on prevention, or on safe, responsible use of gaming?”
[Kev Clelland]: I’ll come in and answer that one. And first of all, and then interesting to hear the thoughts of the rest of the panel, Jeff. I think it’s probably a balance of the two, isn’t it? And one of the key things we’ve talked about, that sort of convergence between gaming gambling today, and one of the sort of key learnings in there is that obviously there needs to be some form of intervention in terms of policy regulation, but then research plays that crucial role in there as well. And that really clear evidence based approach to that research, but also to the education and treatment that needs to be and happening arm in arm, so to speak.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]:
One of the problems that we find in North America is that there are very few treatment providers who have experience or expertise in gaming. And so when a young child or an adolescent has a gaming problem, they don’t know, really, how to treat that person. And then parents are constantly asking the treatment providers, “what should I do as a parent? If I keep saying, no, no, no, they’re going to go to their friends’ house and game or I can’t discuss the information.” As David said, being around Fortnite, many of the kids are socializing by discussing what they’ve done in Fortnite. So I think there’s a real problem and I think we need a lot more people trained in terms of gaming. One of the things I will tell you is that the Canadian Pediatric Society in Canada is very concerned about excessive gaming. A little less concerned about the gambling aspect, but very concerned about excessive gaming because this is producing all kinds of social problems with their family members and as well as education, the activities that they’re supposed to be engaged in. So what are the signs of harm? What kind of signs would you see as harm? Is it just the frequency that individuals are gaming? Is it the amount of money they’re spending in terms of gaming? I throw it open to the panel. Kev, do you want to take a shot at it?
[Kev Clelland]: Yeah, I’ll go first. Yeah. I mean, I think, I think in terms of the signs of harm, it is that gaming to a degree that compromises, disrupts, or damages those family, personal and recreational pursuits. So it’s not it’s not just the financial harm that that person is experiencing. They might not even be experiencing financial harm. Again, there are those similarities around gambling harms. I mentioned at the start that we’re a charity formed initially on the experiences of gambling harm and lived experience and people that we work with and some of our members of staff that have experienced harm and they’re very keen to point that out, too. As are the young people that we’ve spoken to through a piece of research that we did with Newcastle University. And we talk about just that sheer peer pressure and that fear of missing out that they experienced over trying to get hold of some of these more lucrative items as well. And really that worth that young people do play something of money’s worth on these items as well.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: David, do you have any other input in terms of the harms that one should be looking for from a parent perspective? Or what are you looking at as a researcher?
[Dr. David Zendle]: Yeah, no, those are both great questions. And I’d just like to say that Kev gave an amazing answer just before as well. I think many of the harms we talk about, and he’s right, they are remarkably similar to those of the gambling debate. I think there are known harms and there are also unknown harms. So one of the big theories here, one of the big unanswered questions about this kind of monetization is “what is it doing to cognition?” And we both touched on that when we were talking about gambling. Jeffrey, you have people engaging in simulated gambling activities. You talked about something which is very interesting, which is to do with the unrealistic payout schedules in social casinos because you’re playing with Monopoly money, they can pay out in ways that the real slot machines at the casino would immediately go bankrupt. We’re not really confident that we know what this is doing to people. And, so, there’s this whole host of unknown cognitive distortions where the impact, how and what dose it would take to make a meaningful change. All these things are open questions and nobody in the industry can really comfortably say that these are safe, for that matter. Then there are other impacts where we know logically that these things will happen. So there are games where huge fractions of the firebase are spending tens of thousands of dollars a game. And when you have a product where people are spending tens of thousands, have to spend tens of thousands dollars in order to compete, you have everything that goes along with spending lots of money, including, you know, debt, bankruptcy remortgage and guilt shame, all that constellation of effects that are part of, I totally appreciate what Kev says, not all of gambling, but are intrinsically linked to it. So I think there are two very separate things here to look out for.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Thank you. It’s also interesting to note that when the World Health Organization came out with Internet Gaming Disorder, that the industry was alarmed, that they were really concerned that this was producing, or stigmatizing, individuals who may be involved in gaming. And as David, you pointed out quite clearly earlier, that there are positive aspects of gaming. It can produce relaxation, it can produce socialization if you’re doing it with friends. I have a question for Leon, and that is you talked about the regulation in Belgium and the thought that a large number of gaming sites are not adhering to the regulations. So, is regulation really important then? Should the U.S. move towards regulation? If people are not adhering to it and there aren’t enough people monitoring it, then where do we go from there?
Well, okay,the way that I presented the data as the situation stands now, is that there are a lot of high top grossing games. They’re still monetized with loot boxes. But it is also interesting to note that the bigger video game companies, the ones that I would say have more of a reputation to uphold, they have generally complied with Belgian law by removing their games, or not publishing their games there entirely. So I suppose in terms of the very, very popular games, those have been effectively removed from the Belgium market. So there are some things that the regulation, some positives, if you view removing loot boxes as a positive to have been achieved by the regulation. But I guess the point I do want to note, which is that I think countries need to think about the costs of enforcing something like this because you are looking at more than a million games just on the iPhone market alone. So I think one way that might help countries get around this is to have a licensing regime where any games intending to implement loot boxes would have to obtain a license. Just like gambling operators need to obtain a gambling license. And this way, the regulators with the countries are able to get some of the costs that they would need to spend on enforcing the law in this area back from the industry in that way.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: It’s interesting that a number of countries have tried to regulate gaming like in China, where they’re regulating it mostly in terms of the amount of time that individuals can spend gaming. In the U.S., there have been a number of lawsuits against gaming companies because of the idea of loot boxes and its relationship to gambling. Some countries have said, well, we recognize there are some elements of gambling involved in loot boxes, like the UK, but they’ve decided not to regulate it, they’ve decided not to call it gambling. And that’s been true in the United States as well as Canada, where jurisdictions are saying there are similarities, but it’s really not gambling per se. And the operators, the gaming operators will, when I’ve spoken to them, will say, listen, if you as a parent have a problem with this, monitor your child. Don’t give them access to cash or credit cards or ways of micro- doing micro-transactions. But it seems to me that, you know, 25 years ago that’s where the gambling industry was. But today, because of regulation, that they began to change or modify their behavior somewhat. And I think if we try to impose regulation, it’ll be much more problematic as we go forward. So, where do we stand on regulation, Leon? Are more countries exploring this? I thought I read that Australia is exploring regulating gaming as well.
[Leon Xiao]: Yes. So we are expecting a bill from an Australian member of Parliament who I believe is going to, hopefully, he’s going to propose a bill that would restrict loot boxes to only games that players above the age of 18 can play. But, my understanding is that that bill is unlikely to pass given that he is an independent member of Parliament, I do not think he has the support of the Government on that particular bill. But, another example is Spain. So, earlier this year, Spain published a draft law on how they intend to regulate loot boxes. So they are intending, and this is the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in Spain, so that is the government, what they are proposing to do is to have a regulatory regime alongside the gambling regime, an ad hoc regulatory regime just for loot boxes. That will pretty much be run as how gambling regulation is ran. And then that would, as part of it, mean that players under 18 will not be able to purchase loot boxes, and then adult players would also be provided with a variety of consumer protection measures. So definitely countries are considering the possibility of regulating this some more. But I would personally suggest that I do not think a ban is going to be realistic and also that another point that you brought up, Jeffrey, earlier about the US and Canada is that I do believe loot boxes would be a matter of state or provincial law. And so a federal solution might not be practically something that can be explored. Now, I realize that I am speaking about the laws of jurisdictions I do not really know, but my understanding is that would cause a potential situation where different states in America would have different laws in relation to loot boxes and then companies would have to negotiate that and so too would players.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Yeah, I know. Yeah, I think you’re absolutely correct in that it would become much more cumbersome. But there are ways of prohibiting individuals from gambling from state to state online. So I think it’s certainly possible. There have been a number of questions about community school programs. What should they focus on and how should they approach it? And how, as researchers and as clinicians and as policymakers, how should we approach this issue and raise its importance to legislators? Kev, do you want to join me?
[Kev Clelland]: Yeah, I think one of the key things that we need to do is, and from an education point of view, is to evidence the impacts of that education. So it’s about working with the research as well as to get the evidence of the difference, hopefully that that education could make. And that’s something that we are looking to do when we continue to try to do at YGAM as well. So in terms of, I mentioned in my presentation that our programs are independently evaluated, we’re also working with researchers in the UK on a gambling side, but also on the gaming side. So we’re working with researchers from Bristol University who looked at the appeal of gambling advertising, the fact that young people found gambling advertising more appealing and looking to see if our education programs, if young people who have gone through our education program are more likely to make a more informed, educated choice. And so to be aware of some of those those adverts that are out there and then similarly we’re doing something similar with the researchers from the University of Plymouth, who did an epic piece of work around lott boxes as well in looking at particular at risk and groups of young people as well who may be more at risk of experiencing harms through loot box purchasing and through gaming. And also, I think it’s important to really to not just focus on those certain mechanics of loot boxes as well, but to understand the other things that are out there. You know, we’ve heard people talking about and bringing in greater controls about the loot boxes themselves, but we’ve got those in-game currencies that differ from game to game. That real observation between the real world and the virtual world that young people have. You know, we’ve got FIFA points, we have ROBUX, we could go on and on naming those different currencies. I think as adults we would struggle and know that in the UK we’re still trying to get used to what the pounds worth around the world is as well, particularly over the last couple of weeks. And we seem to expect young people to make those transactions and understand those as well.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Yeah, I think this is an interesting area for researchers as well as teachers and educators to get involved in. And I know you go, or your organization goes, around to schools and educates or tries to develop programs for young people. And this is a really important issue, I think, that’s often neglected. And when we try to go into schools, more often, whether it’s gambling or gaming, they’re much more likely to let us in for gaming, but they’re saying, listen, you know, we have so many issues that we’re dealing with with our young people, We’re dealing with drugs, we’re dealing with alcohol, we’re dealing with unprotected sex, etc., etc.. And when do we have time to teach our kids, you know, how to read, write, and do arithmetic? If everybody keeps coming in and doing these things, it becomes a problem. But one of the things that’s interesting in North America with the introduction of sports wagering across the United States now, as well as in Canada, is that we’re starting to see lots of professional, well-known athletes or well-known celebrities advertising or promoting these gambling sites. Is there a way for us to get well-known celebrities to talk about gaming or excessive gaming? Not gaming, but excessive gaming or loot boxes in the same way and use those people as proponents for prevention and as in some respects, as an intervention. Anyone?
[Kev Clelland]: I’ll pick at the answer, I think. It’s a really interesting point, first of all, around the gambling advertising side Jeff. We’ve, just in the UK this week, it’s now prohibited for celebrities to be promoting gambling companies through adverts, whether they be online or on, you know, regular sort of TV media channels as well. And that came into effect from the 1st of October, so just this weekend, and that’s something that we really welcome. And in terms of those influencers having a positive influence, I think we all know that, you know, young people, they look up to these people if they’ve been prohibited from promoting gambling, then surely that’s because the industry’s realized that they do have that influence on those behaviors. So, if we can get people to talk about, you know, levels of gaming harm, how to spot those signs of harm, and how to also game in a safer way, then, yes, I think that would be an excellent idea and we would welcome it as well.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Thank you. David, where do you think the industry is going? The gaming industry.
[Dr. David Zendle]: I think it’s going somewhere quite, quite unusual, but it’s going somewhere weird. So we talk a lot about the Metaverse at the moment, right? So, suddenly, it burst back into traction after being a sort of science fiction concept and novels from the eighties. The idea that you have this shared consensus reality of virtual worlds, and suddenly Meta pitching themselves as the company for the Metaverse, they’re not Facebook anymore, they’re Meta. All these big players are staking themselves on the future, the Metaverse. But really, we already almost have it. It’s just we’re not the ones playing it. Like, have you seen kids play Roblox? Like, that’s a shared consensus reality that they have. It’s just separate to us. We’re going to move towards a situation in which the resources we spend, may that resource be time, or money, or social capital, or whatever. These virtual worlds is increasingly important to people, increasingly real, and increasingly meaningful. And, as that importance increases over the next ten years, we have to really ask ourselves carefully, “who do we want constructing this alternative reality for our children?” Do we want Electronic Arts doing it? But I think the rational answer to that is no, we absolutely do not. So I think we’re in for interesting times.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Montreal happens to be a hotbed in a place where many of the gaming developers are. And when we ask young people, adolescents in high schools and in college, what do you want to do when you get older? “We want to become game developers.” That becomes really an important issue for a lot of young people. But how can we shift the narrative around gaming being normalized and glamorized? You know, we see these bloggers, game bloggers who are making lots of money doing that. We see the professional eSports teams. Universities and colleges are developing these eSports teams. How can we shift this narrative over to a more normalized state as opposed to it being so glamorized and something where people can make enormous amounts of money? Anyone? No?
[Leon Xiao]: I mean, Jeffrey, I’ll put the point to you. I feel like sports, traditional sports, would fall into a similar category at the moment, wouldn’t it? In the sense that, you know, there are the very glamorous football players, soccer players. So I guess perhaps it is my age showing here, but I feel like the normalization of video games is very much gotten to me and I personally don’t really see the problem with it. I’d be normalized into it and I think it is perfectly normal and I do think most people my age around me are playing video games.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Yeah, I, I think that certainly, you know, is quite relevant. The issue, though, is that most young people don’t think they can be professional athletes, but they may well think they’re going to be professional gamers. And interestingly enough, the International Olympic Committee is looking at whether or not eSports will be an Olympic activity.
[Kev Clelland]: We just had over in the UK here in the summer. Jeff, and for people in the audience who may be aware of the Commonwealth Games that were on and there was the eSports Commonwealth Championships that were held in the same city in Birmingham at the same time. And I mean I think I would agree to a certain extent with Leon’s comment around the fact that, you know, just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I think with part of the eSports side of things, you know, there are many great career opportunities beyond just being that professional sportsman or eSports professional that are out there. So you could enter into the world of marketing, you could into the world of journalism and get entry into the world of education as well. There’s lots of colleges now in the UK that offer eSports and degrees and btecs as well. And I would say that rather than sort of shift the narrative, I think it’s important that we get that narrative right so that we come from that position of, of understanding that there are benefits there, that we don’t just dismiss it out of hand, but that we explain to young people that in some cases, that gaming can be harmful and that amount of gaming can be unhealthy and unrealistic. And look at the burn out rates that are in that eSports world, you know, the number of eSports professionals that quit the game a lot earlier than your football professionals or basketball professionals over in the US. And then also, as we’ve heard today, that there are elements of gaming where there is that convergence as well with gambling.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Thank you. Any other comments from the panel? Should we be concerned more about consumer protection or gambling regulation with respect to loot boxes? David?
[Dr. David Zendle]: I would like to say the more I think about it, the more I think of this as a consumer protection issue. Like, so this has been a journey. So when I first started out, I clearly thought that this was to do with randomization. I thought this is a specific issue to do with randomized rewards. But the more I have explored monetization in the video games industry, in particular monetization where there are games that are sort of top heavy, they’re getting the vast majority that make for a very small fraction of their player base. But the more I notice issues with how things are being sold that are completely separate to the randomization. So it feels to me as if basically what’s happened is a bunch of tech bros have each been given their own private universe, their own private unregulated sales platform, and nobody is looking at them. Nobody’s watching them. They’re doing stuff up there that would make your blood curdle. And it’s nothing to do with gambling, but it is to do with they’re selling people products, which is something that typically, in the UK, we have bodies that take care of. But of course, as Leon said earlier, it’s really hard getting people with the expertise to scrutinize these things. Adding to which there’s a unique difficulty at scrutinizing games. Games are differentiated from other narrative forms because they’re what we call ergodic, making progress through them takes effort, if not for skill. So if there’s a position where in order to police a product, you have to have twitch reflexes and being really good at shooting stuff, it suddenly becomes a lot harder than policing another zone where you could just walk into a shop and notice that they’re selling something. So I absolutely think these are very interesting consumer issues.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Yeah, that’s great. You know, it’s quite interesting to me to see the evolution of gaming, having been around for a long time. When Nintendo first came out, I did an interview with- I was on a panel with the president of Nintendo, and I was talking about excessive use of Nintendo in terms of nothing to do with loot boxes, but that kids were overly engrossed in playing these games. And he said, yep, you know, the eye-hand coordination that this is producing is going to, we’re going to have much better jet fighter pilots in the future. And I just turned to him and asked the question, “how many people are going to be jet fighter pilots?” And so there are benefits to most things that we do in life. And gaming is one. If we removed all loot boxes and started charging for the games as opposed to giving them away for free, that might be one solution, but the gaming industry will never go for that. That’s quite clear. This is a, as you presented, David, in your early part of your presentation, talked about how much money they have to invest to get these games and then fingers crossed and hope that it’s going to be a big seller in order to get their money back. So it’s a business and I think we have to view that as a business. But at the same time I think we should all be working with, or the industry should be working with people like ourselves to help protect children, protect vulnerable individuals and deal with things on a more effective level. So we’re nearing the end of our discussion. Maybe we can try to give some last minute thoughts on each of you, for the topic of gaming gambling, convergence, loot boxes, etc. So since you’re on the screen, David, why don’t you go first?
[Dr. David Zendle]: I guess my final thoughts on the matter, it kind of bounces what you were just saying, Jeffrey. They’re not your parents’ games, right? So, like, it’s fundamentally changed, games aren’t just products anymore, they’re these very, very sophisticated marketplaces. Very sophisticated sales platforms. And they might be filled with all kinds of financial transactions that you’re not aware of. So I think there’s no real labeling to protect you or your children against this. So for now, until governments catch up, I think you have to be actively engaged in your children’s gaming lives because it’s the only real way to understand these at the moment, sadly, is to play them, as much of a burden this places on you as a parent.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: That’s great. I mean, that’s something that Leon echoed as well. Maybe if parents played the games, they would see what’s inside the game as opposed to saying, to their teenager or child, “go into your room, play on your laptop or you’re on your iPad and enjoy yourself or your smartphone.” Leon, do you have any last comments you’d like to make?
[Leon Xiao]: Yeah, I suppose my last comment would be kind of what I said nearing the end is even if some sort of new law or measure is brought into place, I think we need to reserve our judgment on whether or not it’s being effective and whether or not it being complied with until we actually go and check whether or not it has been effective or whether or not it has been complied with. Until then, I think we need to be more mindful. And I think that’s the general sentiment that I’m getting today.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: And would that be true as well for legislators and policymakers?
[Leon Xiao]: Absolutely. I think the Belgian Gaming Commission and the Belgian Minister of Justice, neither of them, I think were really thinking about the possibility that their enforcement action has not been as well as they expected. And it is my understanding that some Belgian policymakers also thought that the problem has been solved when in reality it hasn’t been. And that has been quite misleading, not just for parents and players, but also for people who deal with policy.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: And might be something, if we saw legislators playing these games during legislation periods or if a legislator had a child who was experiencing problems, I think we might make headway a lot faster. Kev? Last minute thoughts?
[Kev Clelland]: And nothing, just to echo where everybody else has said. Obviously, from an education charity, I’m going to say that education is crucial in this. And, as a parent, I think education is vitally important. That need for further research. But then also how we interpret that research and how we convey that research to the general public so they really understand it as well. And, yea, agree with David. Play those games with young people, ask those questions, come from that place of curiosity. Because I think sometimes you asking those questions to the young people in your care will make them think about it as well and make them self-reflect and analyze and then see potentially some of the things that are happening to them as well as they play those games.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]: Should we develop more curriculum for the schools, along those lines?
[Kev Clelland]: I would agree. I think in the UK we’re fortunate that it’s both gaming and gambling harms and now looking at what we have is the PSAT curriculum in England and also as I mentioned, we’ve mapped our resources there. I think it’s something that does need to happen around the world, but also not just one hour a year, not just one person coming in and speaking to that school. We believe firmly in that training, the training models, that we look to equip as many people so that then they can deliver and cascade that information amongst young people.
[Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky]:
I would like to thank all my fellow panel members for their excellent presentations and their most valuable contributions and suggestions. And I’ll turn it over to Chris.
[Kris Perry]: Thank you, Jeffrey, David, Leon and Kev for joining us today to share your expert insights and advice. To learn about child development and digital media, check out our website at www.childrenandscreens.com. Follow us on these platforms and subscribe to our YouTube channel where you can find all of our previous webinars. Please join us again on Wednesday, October 19 for our next Ask the Experts webinar on the tools and strategies youth are using to communicate in a digital world. We hope to see you there.