In June, the Australian Parliament’s Environment and Communications References Committee began researching video game loot boxes. Just two-and-a-half months later, the group has reported its findings. And it’s bad news Electronic Arts and most of the mobile gaming business, according to news site Lexology.
Lead investigators Dr. David Zendle and Dr. Paul Cairns examined nearly 7,500 individuals. The researchers claim people who have problems with gambling tend to spend more on loot boxes. I’ve reached out to committee to get more details on its methodology. I’ll update this post once I have that information.
“Our large-scale study found important links between loot box spending and problem gambling,” reads the committee’s report. “The more severe a gamers’ problem gambling was, the more likely they were to spend large amounts of money on loot boxes. These results strongly support claims that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling.”
Loot boxes have drawn the attention of regulators around the world after gaming fans led a backlash against the business model. Consumer outrage reached its zenith last year leading into the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II from Electronic Arts. That game and countless others give players the option to spend extra money on crates that work a lot like a pack of baseball cards. You don’t know what is inside, but you’ll always get something. Most of the time it’s junk, but sometimes it’s useful and valuable. Upset gamers have said that this model works like an unregulated slot machine, and people in power in Europe and Australia have started listening to them.
Are loot boxes harmful? Possibly
Cairns and Zendle claim that loot boxes could cause gambling-related harm. They hypothesize that loot boxes could act as a gateway to real gambling or they could exploit gambling disorders without regulation.
“Industry statements typically disassociate loot boxes from gambling,” Cairns and Zendle said in a statement. “They instead highlight similarities between loot boxes and harmless products like trading cards or Kinder Surprise eggs. … 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 results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling.”
The investigators pointed to their findings that people who spent a lot on loot boxes also spent a lot on gambling.
“This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling,” said Cairns and Zendle. “It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.”