GambleAware report suggests link between loot boxes and problem gambling

A new report has found that those who spend more than £70 per month on loot boxes tend to be more likely to show signs of problem gambling.

Links between loot boxes and gambling have been “robustly verified” by a new report commissioned by GambleAware, a UK charity aiming at reducing gambling-related harms.

The report, conducted by the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton ahead of the upcoming Gambling Act review, consolidated results from a dozen studies and found that loot boxes are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.”

Looking at 7,771 loot box purchasers, the report showed around half of the revenue generated by loot boxes – worth £700 million total in the UK in 2020 – comes from 5% of buyers who’ve each spent more than £70 per month.

“A third of these gamers were found to fall into the ‘problem gambler’ category (PGSI 8+) establishing a significant correlation between loot box expenditure and problem gambling scores,” GambleAware said.

The report also looked into the habits of 14,000 players and found that young men and those with a “lower educational attainment” are more likely to purchase loot boxes.

“The interviews also highlight that the digital assets in loot boxes often have real-world and/or psychological value,” GambleAware continued. “This suggests that loot boxes could be regulated under existing gambling legislation.”

The charity called for policies to be put in place, including a clear definition of what constitutes a loot box, enforceable age ratings on games, full disclosure of the odds when purchasing, spending limits, and prices displayed in real currency (as opposed to in-game currency).

“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’,” Dr James Close, a senior research fellow at the University of Plymouth, said.

“We have also demonstrated that at-risk individuals, such as problem gamblers, gamers, and young people, make disproportionate contributions to loot box revenues.”

Reviews of these and other studies also led the researchers to determine that the size of the UK’s loot box market is around £700m.

Finally, the report said that new provisions for oversight and enforcement would be necessary, as current regulatory bodies in gambling are ill-equipped to regulate loot boxes.

Germany recently passed a proposed reform to the country’s youth protection law, which could result in new standards being applied to video games featuring loot boxes.

Loot boxes are expected to generate $20 billion worldwide by 2025.

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