An Australian investigation starting in June has published their findings and concluded that lootboxes can lead to problem gambling. The investigation was undertaken by the Environment and Communications References Committee, with lead investigators Dr David Zendle and Dr Paul Cairns presenting the results yesterday. Surveying over seven thousand participants, the study found that problem gamblers were likely to spend large amounts of money on lootboxes in the same way as they would on traditional gambling machines.
The study also determined that there were psychological links between lootboxes and traditional gambling machines. These include elements like flashing lights and exciting noises that exacerbate the feeling that rare items are winning and common items are losing. The study specifically states that lootboxes act as a potential gateway to problem gambling, hooking gamers on gambling. They also suggest that lootboxes are a means for game companies to knowingly and intentionally exploit problem gamblers in their playerbase.
The findings are extremely damning for lootboxes and the companies that put them in games. This investigation is just one of many global investigations into lootboxes. Most recently, the Belgium Gaming Commission drew a similar conclusion to Australia, going as far as to propose that companies remove either games with lootboxes or the mechanic from games. Just last week, EA was the only one out of Activision-Blizzard, Valve and 2K Games to ignore this proposed ban. The Australian report suggests three courses of action:
– Games containing loot boxes carry parental advisories
– Games containing loot boxes carry descriptors that indicate the presence of in-game gambling content.
– Serious consideration is given to restricting games that contain loot boxes to players of legal gambling age
They made the following statement:
Industry statements typically disassociate loot boxes from gambling. They instead highlight similarities between loot boxes and harmless products like trading cards or Kinder Surprise eggs. As the ESRC put it: “we do not consider loot boxes to be gambling … loot boxes are more comparable to baseball cards, where there is an element of surprise and you always get something.”.
By contrast, researchers argue that loot boxes share so many formal similarities with other forms of gambling that they meet the ‘psychological criteria’ to be considered gambling themselves. These researchers further suggest that buying loot boxes may therefore lead to problem gambling amongst gamers.
These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling. Spending large amounts of money on loot boxes was associated with problematic levels of spending on other forms of gambling. This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.