UK study links loot boxes to problem gambling

Researchers reviewed 13 previous studies into loot boxes.
Researchers reviewed 13 previous studies into loot boxes.

A new report claims to have “robustly verified” the link between video game loot boxes and problem gambling.

UK.- A report from researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton has found that there is a clear link between video game loot boxes and problem gambling.

The report found that loot boxes “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling” and that large numbers of children in the UK were exposed to the device in video games.

Links to gambling behaviour 

The new report, commissioned by the charity GambleAware, reviews existing bodies of research in a bid to assess the links between in-game prizes and gambling behaviour

It found that twelve out of 13 studies on the issue established “unambiguous” connections to problem gambling behaviour.

The researchers found that many video games used a “psychological nudge” to encourage players to buy loot boxes, including the fear of missing out on limited-time items or special deals.

They wrote: “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.

“Our research therefore demonstrates that game developers, unwittingly or not, appear to be generating outsized loot box profits from at-risk individuals (these are likely to include both people with gambling problems or problematic patterns of video gaming) – but not from wealthy gamers.

The report noted that 40 per cent of the 93 per cent of children in the UK who play video games had opened loot boxes, but that about 5 per cent of gamers generated half of all revenue from the boxes. 

Those players spent between £70 and £100 a month on the virtual products.

Dr James Close from the University of Plymouth said: “We have demonstrated that at-risk individuals, such as problem gamblers, gamers, and young people, make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues.”

Recommendations for the regulation of loot boxes

The researchers recommended that if the government chooses to include loot boxes in gambling legislation, regulations would need extremely precise definitions to avoid games developers finding loopholes.

They also suggested that loot boxes should be mentioned in in-game labelling and age ratings and that the odds of winning items should be clearly shown, including the average amount a player would have to spend to buy enough boxes to obtain a rare item.

GambleAware’s chief executive Zoe Osmond said: “It is now for politicians to review this research, as well as the evidence of other organisations, and decide what legislative and regulatory changes are needed to address these concerns.

A spokesman for the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), a national games industry body, said game companies had already taken action on loot boxes.

The association said: “Probability disclosure has already been introduced to the major game platforms; a new paid random item descriptor was added to the PEGI age rating system to inform players of their presence in games; settings and tools on all major game devices – and in a number of leading games – already allow players to manage, limit or turn off spend.

“We will also continue to work constructively to support our players in partnership with government and other organisations.”

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes in video games are sealed mystery boxes that contain random in-game add-ons such as weapons or costumes. 

They can sometimes be earned through playing the game and sometimes can be bought with real money.

See also: EA to block FIFA Ultimate Team mode due to loot box lawsuits

The UK House of Lords last year said that loot boxes should be regulated as gambling products, and the government’s current review of UK gambling legislation is due to look into the matter.

Other countries in Europe have already taken steps in the same direction, while Spain launched a consultation on the possibility of taking action last month.

In this article:
gambleaware gambling gambling regulation