Loot Boxes Are Problem Gambling Issue Says New Study

A GambleAware-sponsored study into the connection between loot boxes and problem gambling has produced “robust evidence” to support the claim that in-game purchases lead to “problem gambling behaviors.”

A Connection between Gambling and Loot Boxes After All

There is robust evidence to suggest that loot boxes are linked to gambling harm, a new study by GambleAware has revealed. The issue of loot boxes is not new, and it has been one of the most hotly-debated topics in and surrounding the ongoing Gambling Act 2005 review. 

GambleAware commissioned the report from the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton, and the research revealed that some 93% of UK children play video games, and 40% have accessed a loot box. 

The issue with loot boxes is not new or easily ignorable. Some companies have built their entire revenue streams around them, and quite a few publishers and developers have faced legal and regulatory action.

Belgium and the Netherlands suspended loot boxes in popular in-game purchases for EA games back in 2019, setting a precedent that loot boxes may need to be restricted or taken outright of games. 

Now, the GambleAware study fleshes some more details onto whether those fears and actions have been justified. According to University of Plymouth senior research fellow Dr James Close, the survey established a connection between loot boxes and “problem gambling behaviors.”

Fear of Missing Out Drives Purchases 

He hinted that players were incentivized to make purchases through a FOMO or “fear of missing out” advertisement technique that made consumers more pliant to make an in-game purchase. Dr Close continued:

“We have also demonstrated that at-risk individuals, such as problem gamblers, gamers, and young people, make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues.”

The case for and against loot boxes has been long-simmering in the backdrop of any gambling re-regulation. Spain, the latest European market to take a harder look at its gambling laws, has also announced a public consultation on loot boxes and asked for advice on how to handle the issue. 

A study by New South Wales (NSW) in Australia found out that children as young as 11 had access and were allowed by parents to play games that had betting-like mechanics. Overall, the academic case against loot boxes has been strong.

The ambling Health Alliance said that 15% of children in the UK had taken money from their parents without asking for permission. GambleAware’s latest study has focused on not just proving a causal link, but also finding a workaround. Dr Close had this to add:

“We have made a number of policy suggestions to better manage these risks to vulnerable people, although broader consumer protections may also be required.”

One interesting observation, akin to high-rolling gambling spending, was that five percent of all loot box buyers in the United Kingdom had bought half of the total loot boxes purchased in the United Kingdom in 2020. 

Of Problem Gamblers and Video Gamers 

GambleAware further established that a third of video gamers fell in the problem gambler category. The research’s sample featured around 14,000 people, a broad enough group of people to derive fairly accurate conclusions.

Just like with regular gambling, men were far more likely to buy loot boxes. Younger men and those from a poorer educational background were even more inclined to do so. The survey produced a recommendation that loot boxes should probably be regulated under existing gambling legislation. 

To address the problem of loot boxes, there would need to be stricter regulatory enforcement which means that publishers and gaming companies will have to meet new compliance standards.

The survey suggests that mechanisms such as age verification, game labeling, and spending limits should all be considered. GambleAware Zoë Osmond has commented that the NGO remains committed to protecting children, adolescents, and young people from the harms of gambling. 

“The research has revealed that a high number of children who play video games also purchase loot boxes, and we are increasingly concerned that gambling is now part of everyday life for children and young people,” Osmond added. 

It’s game on for legislators who will now have to find a solution to an issue that may be hurting more people than its cheerful, upbeat looks suggest.

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