A new report claims to have “robustly verified” a link between problem gambling and video game loot boxes.
The results of a joint study conducted by researchers from the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton have found that video game loot boxes trigger the same sensations in the brain as gambling.
The study, which was funded by the GambleAware, reviewed existing literature in order to summarize the state-of-the-art of research on loot boxes and gambling. According to results, children are a massive target market for developers that push loot boxes in their video games. It also found that 40% of children who played video games also opened loot boxes, and that half of all loot box revenues are generated by only 5% of gamers.
According to the report, those big spenders — known as “whales” in the game development industry — often spend upwards of $100 every month on loot boxes. Despite regularly spending large amounts of money on in-game purchases, many of these whales are not wealthy or high-earners.
The study also noted that many games use what the research team calls a “psychological nudge” — including limited-time deals and manipulation of the fear of missing out — to get users to purchase their loot boxes.
Crucially, the study concludes: “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.”
The results of this research are timely as several world governments, most notably the UK government, are currently considering expanding gambling laws to cover video game loot boxes.
The authors recommend that loot boxes are included in game ratings labels; loot box odds of winning items and the average cost to obtain a rare item should be explicitly shown; and that any regulation should use exact definitions to prevent workarounds and loopholes.