In the United Kingdom, a significant study (or report) has pointed out that the loot boxes are „structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.”
The report was commissioned by GambleAware, a UK charity aiming at reducing gambling-related harms, and it was conducted by the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton, ahead of the upcoming Gambling Act review. „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 claims.
They looked at 7771 loot box purchasers, and the report pointed out that about half of the revenue generated by the boxes (it was worth 700 million pounds total in the UK alone in 2020!) came from about 5% of the buyers. This report also looked into the habits of fourteen thousand players, and it found that young men and those with a „lower educational attainment” are more likely to buy these boxes. „The interviews also highlight that the digital assets in loot boxes often have real-world and/or psychological value. This suggests that loot boxes could be regulated under existing gambling legislation,” GambleAware continued.
They seek for policies to be put in place, such as 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 (and not with 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. 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 several policy suggestions to better manage these risks to vulnerable people, although broader consumer protections may also be required,” Dr James Close, a senior research fellow at the University of Plymouth and co-author of the report, said.
UK games trade body UKIE has reacted to the report in a defensive manner: „The UK games industry has already taken action in regards to concerns around loot boxes. Probability disclosures have already been introduced to the major game platforms; a new paid random item descriptor was added to the PEGI age rating system in 2020 to inform players of their presence; settings and tools on all major game devices — and in many 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,” a UKIE spokesperson said.
The Esports Observer reports that Brazilian authorities have launched an inquiry aimed at banning loot boxes altogether, on the recommendation of the National Association of Child and Adolescent Defense Centers (ANCED), which argues that the randomised monetisation mechanics are a form of gambling, and that is illegal in Brazil.
This inquiry targets companies selling loot boxes, such as Activision, EA, Konami, Nintendo, Riot Games, Ubisoft, Tencent, and Valve. Garena, a mobile games publisher, is also involved, and according to The Enemy, a Brazilian publication, it was also asked to suspend loot box sales until further notice. If the ban is approved, companies that continue to sell the boxes can be fined up to 700 thousand dollars A DAY.