The link between loot boxes and gambling has been “robustly verified,” claims UK charity

A new report published by UK charity GambleAware has “robustly verified” the link between loot boxes and gambling.

The report, funded by GambleAware was completed by the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton. The research found that loot boxes are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.”

Of the 7,771 loot box purchasers, the report shows that just 5 per cent generate half the industry’s loot box revenues. For context, the UK loot box market is estimated to have been worth £700m in 2020. Additionally, a third of these players were found to fall into the ‘problem gambler’ category.

The report claims that loot boxes ‘psychological nudge’ to encourage purchases, working alongside other techniques like in-game currencies and the “fear of missing out” on limited time offers. The report also states that loot boxes often have real world and/or psychological value, and as such could be regulated under existing gambling legislation.

“Our work has established that engagement with loot boxes is associated with problem gambling behaviours, with players encouraged to purchase through psychological techniques such as ‘fear of missing out’” said Dr James Close, Senior Research Fellow, University of Plymouth. “We have also demonstrated that at-risk individuals, such as problem gamblers, gamers, and young people, make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues.

“We have made a number of policy suggestions to better manage these risks to vulnerable people, although broader consumer protections may also be required.”

GambleAware called for a number of policies regarding loot boxes, such as clear definitions of loot boxes, game labelling and enforceable age ratings, full disclosure of odds, spending limits and prices shown in real currency.

“This research is part of GambleAware’s continued commitment to protect children, adolescents and young people from gambling harms,” said Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware. “The research has revealed that a high number of children who play video games also purchase loot boxes and we are increasingly concerned that gambling is now part of everyday life for children and young people.

“GambleAware funded this research to highlight concerns around loot boxes and problem gambling, ahead of the upcoming Gambling Act Review. It is now for politicians to review this research, as well as the evidence of other organisations, and decide what legislative and regulatory changes are needed to address these concerns.”

Many of these concerns have already been addressed by the UK games industry, of course, particularly by trade body Ukie. As a Ukie Spokesperson said to MCV/DEVELOP:

“The UK games industry has already taken action in regards to concerns around loot boxes. Probability disclosures 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.

“You can find out about all these measures, and more about responsible play, at www.askaboutgames.com. We will also continue to work constructively to support our players in partnership with Government and other organisations.”

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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