New research out of CQUniversity Australia’s Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory (EGRL) has identified a link between loot boxes and real-life gambling problems. The study found gamers who buy in loot boxes are more likely to gamble in real life, as well as put larger bets down and more often than others who refused these add-ons.
The study, prepared for the NSW Government Responsible Gambling Fund, analysed the behaviour of 1,954 people living in NSW aged 12 to 24. This group was chosen due to its statistical vulnerabilities with gambling and high use of video games. Of those surveyed, 22.3 per cent of participants admitted they had gambling problems, a statistic the study notes was unusually high and potentially not representative of trends in NSW’s population.
Analysis of the current video games market by EGRL revealed 62 per cent of the top best-selling video games have loot boxes of some form. 93.2 per cent of respondents to the study had played one or more of these games in the last 12 months, with 69.4 per cent of them having opened a loot box from these games during the same period. Only 32.9 per cent of young people in the study had purchased these loot boxes, however.
The median amount purchased per month was $50 for adolescents (aged 12-17) and $72 for young adults (aged 18-24).
The most common reason for purchasing a loot box, according to the study, was to “advance more quickly in the game”, with “gambling” being highlighted as another motivation by 27.3 per cent of young adult and 21.3 per cent of adolescents.
Most young people in the study agreed loot boxes were addictive, likely due to the positive psychological impacts of these purchases, with 53.8 per cent agreeing they were a type of gambling.
“Loot boxes in video games are similar to gambling, since players invest time and money obtaining them, and there’s a thrill around the possibility of gaining a rare and valuable reward,” study co-author Dr Alex Russell said in a press release provided to Kotaku Australia.
Participants in the study were asked when they opened their first loot box, with the study concluding young adults who first opened one no more than 12-24 months prior were more likely to be current gamblers, gamble more frequently or have more gambling problems. It also found young adults who recently first purchased a loot box were more likely to have gambling problems.
“[Loot boxes] are a growing concern because of the risk and reward elements associated with them that is similar to gambling and there are currently no age limits to play these games,” said study lead author Professor Matthew Rockloff in the EGRL press release.
Within in the study, a link was clearly drawn between current use of loot boxes and current gambling, with those in the study more likely to have gambled in the last 12 months, more frequently, or with more money if they had opened, purchased or sold loot boxes within the last year.
The study outlined a major link between the two activities, identifying major gambling risks associated with loot boxes:
“For both young adults and adolescents, there was a strong association between current loot box use and gambling risk. Consequently, although median expenditure on loot boxes is modest, there is evidence that these products are associated with harmful gambling involvement.”
The report concluded with a call for preventative measures to better protect adolescents from exposure to loot boxes. This issue continues to be investigated around the world as the long-term psychological impacts of loot boxes on young people are researched and understood by governing bodies.
While it’s currently unclear whether these findings will lead to government-led action, it’s certainly an important study to watch. Loot boxes and in-game purchases have long been on the Australian government’s radar and it’s likely this study will create further debate about the use of loot box mechanics in popular games.