GambleAware Survey Notes Loot Boxes Are Problem Gambling Issue

Since a GambleAware-commissioned study found “robust evidence” that the video game mechanics are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling,” experts have recommended a variety of policies to discourage gambling harms associated with loot boxes.

This comes as the charity releases the results of a survey on gaming and gambling conducted by the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton, which showed that 93 percent of children in the UK play video games, with up to 40 percent of those having opened loot boxes.

Psychological techniques

Senior research fellow at the University of Plymouth, Dr. James Close, said: “Our work has established that engagement with loot boxes is associated with problem gambling behaviours, with players encouraged to purchase through psychological techniques such as ‘fear of missing out’. 

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

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

According to a study of self-reported spend data from 7,771 purchasers of loot boxes, the UK market for which was expected to be worth £700 million by the end of 2020, about 5 percent produce approximately half of the industry’s loot box sales.

A third of these players were considered to be ‘problem gamblers’ (PGSI 8+), indicating “a significant correlation between loot box expenditure and problem gambling scores,” according to GambleAware.

Young men are more likely to open loot boxes, according to the researchers, who also observed that those with a younger age and of lower educational achievement are more likely to associate with these functions.

Researchers say that loot boxes are just one form of “psychological nudge” used to facilitate buying, operating alongside other strategies like in-game currency and the risk of losing out on limited-time discounts, based on interviews with UK buyers.

The study concludes that “loot boxes could be regulated under existing gambling legislation” based on these results and the real-world and/or psychological importance of digital properties.

Specific definitions; game marking and enforceable age ratings; full transparency of odds displayed in a readily recognisable manner; spending caps and prices shown in actual currency; and improvements to be implemented by new rules or revisions to current gaming legislation are among the measures proposed to deter gambling harms associated with loot boxes.

Protecting children and young adults

The CEO of GambleAware, Zo Osmond, explained: “This research is part of GambleAware’s continued commitment to protect children, adolescents and young people from gambling harms.

“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.

“GambleAware funded this research to highlight concerns around loot boxes and problem gambling, ahead of the upcoming Gambling Act review. 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.”