Studies analyzing the behavior of gamers who buy loot boxes conclude that there is “robust evidence” that the microtransactions are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.” In a complication of 13 reports all but one of them found this link, which also suggests that a third of those spending the most on loot boxes are classed as “problem gamblers.”
The report also found that men are the main demographic buying into loot boxes, especially those of a young age and with less formal education.
The report from charity GambleAware involved 14,000 gamers, and calls for games with loot boxes to have an automatic enforceable age rating, whereas now there is no law stating they cannot be in games aimed at children.
Loot boxes hardly have a shining reputation in the gaming community, so how are they making so much money? Much like the traditional gambling industry, most of the money comes from a fraction of players spending disproportionately more than others, rather than every gamer putting in a little. Known in gambling as “whales”, these players account for 5% of loot box purchases, but a staggering half of all loot box revenue, according to GambleAware.
Dr. James Close who worked on the report spoke of his concerns, stating that “at-risk individuals, such as problem gamblers, gamers, and young people, make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues.” On top of this, he suggests that video games with loot boxes are deploying similar tactics to the gambling industry to hook big spenders.
“Our work has established that engagement with loot boxes is associated with problem gambling behaviors, with players encouraged to purchase through psychological techniques such as ‘fear of missing out’”, commented Dr. Close.
Gaming industry giants maintain that loot boxes are not a form of gambling, and should not fall under gambling legislation – which would likely see any game containing them pushed up to an age rating of 18 until they’re removed. Both EA and Epic Games have attended committee hearings in parliament to put their case forward that the lack of real world value in the contents of the boxes means they should not be under the same legislation as gambling.
This study comes ahead of the review into the UK Gambling Act, which could potentially spell disaster for games with loot boxes. Countries to already legislate against the practice include Belgium and the Netherlands, which saw Overwatch remove the ability to purchase loot boxes in both nations.
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