People have been looking at a possible link between loot boxes and gambling for years. As reported by the BBC, the latest study by UK researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton has “robustly verified” a link between loot boxes and those who suffer with problem gambling.
The latest research was commissioned by the GambleAware charity. The results concluded loot boxes “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling”. They felt that many games use some form of “psychological nudge” to encourage players to buy loot boxes, whether it’s because they’re a special deal or it’s because players would otherwise miss out on limited-time items if they didn’t buy the boxes. According to the report, “many gamers do ascribe discrete financial values to loot box contents – based on purchase or resale price – suggesting that many loot boxes meet existing criteria for gambling regulation.”
There are some players that spend a lot of money on loot boxes, the 5% of players that generate half of the entire loot box revenue between them. These players can spend more than $100 per month on loot boxes according to the study. The problem that arises from this is that they’re not necessarily the wealthiest of people, instead being “at-risk individuals” who have gambling problems or “problematic patterns of video gaming”.
Whilst young men are considered the players most likely to use loot boxes thanks to their young age and “lower education”, the study’s final conclusion was that 40% of children who play video games also use loot boxes. As such, they recommend loot boxes are labelled appropriately and given age ratings, that the odds of winning items are clearly shown (including the average cost likely to be incurred to earn a rare item), and that games should establish spending limits. Some of these measures have already happened, with ESRB adding in-game purchase labels, and many games displaying the odds of winning items from their loot boxes.
This isn’t the first time a UK study has made the connection, with the UK Gambling Commission releasing a statement on the practice three years ago. Other countries to raise concerns over loot boxes include the US, Sweden, South Korea, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, and Australia. The controversial practice continues onwards in live service games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, despite these concerns.