Australian Study Finds Loot Boxes Purchasers Are More Prone To Gambling Problems

Australian Study Finds Loot Boxes Purchasers Are More Prone To Gambling Problems
A loot box from Overwatch.

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.

You can view the full findings of the EGRL report to the NSW Government Responsible Gambling Fund here.


  • I mean, you’d have to be in someone’s pocket not to know that loot boxes are deliberately designed to tap into the psychological vulnerabilities that can lead to problem gambling… but it sure is nice to have evidence to point to, for the people who are in denial.

    • Or completely ignorant of computer games and not understand what a Loot Box and micro transactions are.

      Which is why they need to do studies like this, for politicians to read. After all the Senate Inquiry asked for more studies… the wheels are slow turning.

      I think consumer protection needs to have more expedient in adapting to business practices… the regulators know its a problem, but have legal or jurisdiction problems to react.

  • $50 a month for people aged 12 – 17?

    Hell, I was lucky to have that much money in a year between mowing lawns and gift money from grandparents.

    • That and cleaning offset printing presses… the perils of having parents that used to produce mass quantities of fanzines for sale at conventions.

    • Fifty cents a day for chores like changing the cat litter, vacuuming the floor, and cleaning the toilet. Two bucks a weekend for mowing the lawn and/or cleaning the pool and doing the pH tests.

      And all this went into a tin for my ‘Sega Master System 2’ fund. Which I ended up never actually buying because I raided it a couple times for Gameboy games. I feel like Zelda 4, Bomberman, Wario 3, and Road Rash were totally worth it, though.

      • I listen to manager talking about how she gives her daughters $50 per tooth from the tooth fairy, and I’m just dumbfounded. Four teeth lost could have gone a long way towards buying your console!

        • soooo… some time around 1995, in your mid to late teens, you were earning less than $1 a week mowing lawns and slaving as a child labourer degreasing the old’s printing presses, plus as a bonus your wrinklines gave you a $5 note for Christmas? ROFL

          Dude, I was making more than five times that more than a decade earlier just doing a shitty paper round, and more than three times that again once I moved on to scrubbing up each evening at the local butcher three nights a week.

          But sure, interest rates were 17%, you lived in a cardboard box in the middle of the road, and lazy kids these days just don’t know how good they got it. Yeah, nah.

          Okay boomer.

  • The thing that surprises me in all this is Poker Machine manufacturers haven’t gone after computer game industry for breach of intellectual property, trademark and copyright.

    • Haha boxhead… thats because they are buying into the industry. Aristocrat bought plarium a few years ago. Plarium made Raid which has several million downloads. They have put a hilariously devious RNG loot system into 75% of the games mechanics. Last I saw it was making 80k+ a day. Different style of game to ones like overwatch but still relevant and only rated M.

    • Unlike casino gambling, though, there’s no risk of loss with loot boxes because you’re always guaranteed to get something.

      Also interesting that they noted most got loot boxes to “advance more quickly in the game” when most loot boxes (such as the Overwatch ones pictured in the article’s lead image) only give cosmetic rewards.

      • No. Getting your 51st identical skin that you weren’t even trying for is not ‘something’. It’s literally one borderline useable something that you almost certainly will never actually use because it looks shit, plus 50 useless messages flashing up on your screen claiming that you won something even though you can never actually under any circumstance use that something because you can only ever wear one skin, or even mostly give them away.

        Having a message flash up on your screen proclaiming that you got something is not the same thing as actually getting something.

        You may as well argue that poker machines would be fine if only they ‘rewarded’ you every time you didn’t get a cash payout with one of 15 randomly selected haikus. Nor would it help if you later added in an option to exchange batches of 100 or more duplicate haikus for a handful of confetti.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!