Arguably, one of the most contentious topics in gaming recently is loot boxes. With Star Wars Battlefront II propelling the mechanic to the global political stage, it’s not difficult to understand why. A recent report found a link between loot boxes and problem gambling behaviors.
Following the release of Star Wars Battlefront II, loot boxes were thrust into the spotlight into the mainstream. In fact, several countries, like Belgium, sought an EU ban on loot boxes in 2017. In 2019, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, Kerry Hopkins, spoke in front of UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee and provided an oral evidence session and called loot boxes, “surprise mechanics.”
The momentum on loot boxes has not slowed, with many arguing that loot boxes are no different than gambling. This most recent report conducted by the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton (via BBC News) concluded that loot boxes, “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling". This research was commissioned by the GambleAware charity and found some pretty startling information.
This report compiled some currently existing research into a few key findings. For example, the study found that of the 93% of children who play games, up to 40% of them actually opened such loot boxes. Additionally, roughly 5% of players make up half the revenue from loot boxes. Furthermore, of the thirteen studies conducted, twelve of them found “unambiguous” connections to behavior associated with problem gambling. Finally, it looks like young men are the most likely to use the loot box mechanics.
The authors continued, noting the generation of this revenue from at-risk individuals,
“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.”
One of the authors of the report, University of Plymouth’s Dr. James Close, spoke about how this report firmly connected loot boxes to problem gambling behavior,
“We have also demonstrated that at-risk individuals, such as problem gamblers, gamers, and young people, make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues.”
In reponse, a spokerspone for the national games industry body, Ukie, provided a statement,
“Probability disclosure has already been introduced to the major game platforms; a new paid random item descriptor was added to the PEGI age rating system to inform players of their presence in games; settings and tools on all major game devices - and in a number of leading games - already allow players to manage, limit or turn off spend. We will also continue to work constructively to support our players in partnership with Government and other organisations."