Links Between Loot Boxes and Problem Gambling ‘Verified’ in New Report

A new report from researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton have discovered that loot boxes “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.”

As reported by BBC, this new research was commissioned by the GambleAware charity, and some of the results discovered include the following;

  • Of the 93% of children who play video games, up to 40% opened loot boxes
  • About 5% of gamers generate half the entire revenue from the boxes
  • Twelve out of 13 studies on the topic have established “unambiguous” connections to problem gambling behaviour
  • Young men are the most likely to use loot boxes – with young age and lower education correlating with increased uses
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The study also found that many games use a “psychological nudge” which encourages those to purchase loot boxes in an attempt to instill the fear of missing out on limited-time items or deals.

“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,” the authors wrote.

As for the 5% of those who generate half the entire revenue for the boxes – who are sometimes called whales – they can spend more than £70 or $100 per month on these loot boxes. What makes this a problem is these aren’t necessarily wealthy people, but those who may have problems with gambling.

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“Our research therefore demonstrates that games 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,” it concluded.

These “at-risk individuals” make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues and are these practices are said to feed into the dangers of gambling.

As for possible solutions, the report recommends that loot boxes be included in game labeling and age ratings, that the odds of winning specific items are clearly shown, that spending limits are established, and more.

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For more on loot boxes, check out our look at how these microtransactions can cause addiction that can destroy lives, ESRB’s announcement on its new ratings labels for loot boxes, and how Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are working on a new policy for loot box probability.

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Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to newstips@ign.com.

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.

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