A new report carried out by researchers at Plymouth and Wolverhampton universities has concluded that there is a link between loot boxes and gambling, saying the in-game devices “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling”.
” Our review demonstrates that relationships between loot box engagement and problem gambling have been robustly verified in around a dozen studies. These draw from various nationalities and cohorts, and now include pre-registered and nationally representative samples,” states the report.
The report explains that people purchasing loot boxes, including many children, are doing so due to a a ‘fear of missing out’ on special items or cosmetics. “Furthermore, players are often nudged towards purchasing via a number of well-known psychological techniques, such as endowment effects (by giving away ‘free’ loot boxes, but then charging for opening), price anchoring, special limited-time offers or items, and obfuscation of costs (i.e. via in-game currencies). ”
The UK government is set to review the Gambling Act and is already considering adding loot boxes to legislation. The UK’s House of Lords has issued a report on the subject of loot boxes in videogames, and has concluded that loot boxes should be classed as gambling. The report also states that this classification should happen immediately.
When EA were called in to discuss loot boxes they famously said they were not loot boxes at all and were in fact ‘surprise mechanics’.
The new report from Plymouth and Wolverhampton universities advises the following:
Prospective policy should include provisions for clear definitions of loot boxes, game labelling and age ratings, full disclosure of odds presented in an easy-to-understand way, spending limits and prices in real currency, and finally, obligations of gatekeepers (i.e. developers, distributors, content providers) for the trade they enable and profit from.
Belgium was one of the first countries to ban loot boxes which caused Nintendo to close down two of its mobile titles in the country, EA removing FIFA Points from sale, Blizzard removing the option to buy loot boxes with real money, and 2K turning off the option to buy packs in NBA 2K. There has been a growing number of governments that have begun focusing on the impact of loot boxes with both Australia and the US among those nations.