Study from UK universities show correlation between loot boxes and gambling

This story about loot boxes and at-risk problem gamblers, boiled down, in 1:43 minutes.

What’s the fuss?

New research suggests that loot box mechanics in video games are psychologically connected to unhealthy gambling habits in children.

The situation

Loot boxes are essentially the virtual equivalent of capsule-toy vending machines where players pay real world money in exchange for a randomized selection of virtual items, or “loot”, that are usually cosmetic in nature. These digital surprises proved lucrative, with some developers reporting upwards of 50% of their entire revenue directly attributable to these microtransactions, leading to their widespread adoption.

A study by researchers at the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton concluded that loot boxes are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling”. With 93% of all children playing video games, 40% of them have opened a loot box. Such a large census of young people may be at-risk to develop a gambling problem from these surprise mechanics.

Boiling it down

Loot boxes are usually priced lower in order to entice repeat purchases. Additionally, many games with such microtransactions will try to hide how much you are truly spending by requiring the player to first purchase some sort of game-specific premium currency (i.e. V Bucks in Fortnite) and then forcing the use of that currency to purchase the microtransactions, instead of just purchasing the loot boxes outright with a credit card. Thus, the connective thread between how much real world money players are spending directly on loot boxes is obscured by this made-up currency.

Compounded by the fact that the contents of these boxes are randomized, this can cause some gamers to spend more than intended trying to find specific items, like this guy. It’s no wonder policy makers all over the world are starting to introduce legislation to curb this practice such as Belgium, who banned loot boxes outright in 2018. Caveat emptor.

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