Loot boxes: I blew my parents’ savings gaming on Fifa

Jonathan Peniket

Like many young teenagers, Jonathan Peniket enjoyed buying random player “packs” to build up his team on the Fifa football video game.

But when his mum was diagnosed with cancer, his spending on these packs, or “loot boxes”, became – as he sees it – an addiction he couldn’t control.

The House of Lords Gambling Committee is calling for loot boxes, which are not currently considered to be gambling, to be regulated urgently.

“I have loved video games since I was a child. I remember waking up early on weekends and heading straight downstairs to play Fifa 05 with the sound off so that I wouldn’t wake my parents,” says Jonathan.

“Now 21, I am fortunate to have made some of my closest friends online, and I think video games can be great for any child.

“I stress this before saying that I feel compelled to tell my story of how ‘loot box gambling’ led to one of the worst experiences of my life.

“In 2009, EA Sports launched the Ultimate Team game mode in their Fifa series. It’s like a huge online football trading card game, and users can then add these players to their teams.

“Better players give you an advantage, and there is a virtual currency and market where these cards are traded. You can buy packs containing a random selection of cards.


“I distinctly remember back in 2012, when I first asked my parents if I could use my money to buy packs, and my frustration when my dad said the packs were “gambling”, before finally agreeing.

“The idea that it was gambling seemed ridiculous to me at the time. I understood that the chances of ‘packing’ my favourite players were low.

“I spent the money, opened my packs, got lucky a couple of times, and tried to be positive, despite being left feeling slightly underwhelmed. ‘If I could just spend another £15…’, I thought.

“Four years followed of spending more and more money on player packs – each time seeking that buzz that would only occasionally come.

“As time went on, I was becoming increasingly secretive about it. I would buy a voucher from a High Street shop and hide it in my room, so my parents wouldn’t find out how much I was spending.

“At the time, I had nothing else I would rather spend my money on. I thought each time that this time would be one where I got lucky.

“When I was 17, I got my first debit card, and suddenly the decision to spend money on the game became instant, just a click of a button away, with no need to buy the vouchers and worry that my parents would find them.

“2017 was the year that changed everything in my life. I was completing my last year of A-levels, with vague plans to go to university. In September my mum was diagnosed with cancer.

“Everything became about waiting until it would all just be a memory. Waiting until the day that my mum’s treatment would be over, when I’d have finished my exams and we could all appreciate normal life again.

“I searched for any way to cope. The buzz of opening packs offered me an escape.

‘The money ran out’

“Any rational sense of moderation and the value of money that my parents and grandparents had saved for my future began to subside. I felt like I needed the money now, to cope, and that in years to come my future self would somehow understand.

“I was spending £30 at a time, then £40, then £50. By the time my card began to block my transactions, I was throwing £80 into the game four or five times a night.

“A few weeks before my exams, after days of watching people open packs on YouTube whilst my parents thought I was upstairs revising, the moment came when the money ran out.

“Money that my parents and grandparents had worked for, that had been given to me as savings for my future. I had blown almost £3,000.

“I accept responsibility for what happened. The decisions I made to spend that money were made by me. My parents were heartbroken when they found out and read through the bank statements.

‘Addicted to the buzz’

“Looking back at what happened, one of the things that sticks out to me is how my spending was going on without any of my family knowing.

“We had family rules with restrictions on gaming time, so there was no lack of parental regulation, and I frequently told my concerned parents that I was not addicted to video games themselves.

“I stand by that now, but I was addicted to the buzz of chance when I bought packs. I agree now with what my Dad said that so angered me back in 2012: video game packs and loot boxes [a general term for in-game purchases involving chance] are a form of gambling.

“With the House of Lords Gambling Committee calling for randomised reward purchases like these to be urgently regulated under gambling laws, I want to do what I can to educate and protect other people from going through an experience like mine.

“I owe it to my teenage self, and to others who will regret spending money on loot boxes, to do what I can to end what is utter exploitation.”

EA’s response

The makers of Fifa, EA Sports, deny any aspect of Fifa constitutes gambling and agree with the assessment made by the Gambling Commission that loot boxes are not gambling.

They say Fifa Ultimate Team can be played without spending any money and that purchases are entirely optional.

They go on to say the well-being of players is paramount – and all their games, including Fifa, have the ability to use parental controls provided by gaming platforms to cap or prohibit spend.

Fifa was approached for comment, but has not yet responded.

There will be more on this story on Nihal Arthanayake on BBC Radio 5 Live from 13:00 or catch up afterwards on BBC Sounds.