Researchers have suggested a number of policies to prevent gambling harms associated with loot boxes, after a GambleAware commissioned report found “robust evidence” that the video game features are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling”.
This comes as the charity publishes findings of a University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton study into gaming and gambling, which found that 93 per cent of children in the UK play video games, and that up to 40 per cent of those have opened loot boxes.
Dr James Close, senior research fellow at the University of Plymouth, stated: “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.”
Analysis of self-report spend data from 7,771 purchasers of loot boxes, whose UK market was estimated to be worth £700m at the end of 2020, found that around five per cent generate around half of industry loot box revenues.
A third of these gamers were found to fall into the ‘problem gambler’ category (PGSI 8+), which GambleAware says establishes “a significant correlation between loot box expenditure and problem gambling scores”.
The researchers’ brief screen of around 14,000 gamers found that young men are more likely to open loot boxes, with those of a younger age, and lower educational attainment, also more likely to engage with these features.
Citing interviews with UK purchasers, researchers suggest that loot boxes are just one type of “psychological nudge” used to encourage purchase, working alongside other techniques, such as in game currencies and the fear of missing out on limited time offers.
These findings, coupled with the real-world and/or psychological value of digital assets, leads the study to state that “loot boxes could be regulated under existing gambling legislation”.
Policies suggested to prevent gambling harms associated with loot boxes include, clear definitions; game labelling and enforceable age ratings; full disclosure of odds presented in an easily understood manner; spending limits and prices shown in real currency; and changes to be instated via new regulations or alterations to existing gambling laws.
Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware, 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.”