In the past few years, a number of studies have claimed there has been a link between loot boxes and problem gambling. Now, a new meta-analysis of these studies has shown a correlation between the two aforementioned issues. Furthermore, the research has identified the need for better regulation of so-called in-game spending in order to guarantee consumers are protected against possible gambling-related harm.
Considering the fact that the revenue generated by loot boxes is expected to rise to AU$25.6 billion by 2025, the issue could be even more important than ever imagined because of the significant effects on the gaming industry and on global mental health.
The study, called “Meta-analysis of the relationship between problem gambling, excessive gaming and loot box spending”, was carried out in collaboration between the University of Tasmania and the School of Psychology at Massey University in New Zealand. The study was aimed at analyzing the alleged correlation between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes in order to determine how the relationship between the two was actually formed and how it had affected more vulnerable players.
The new report states that a considerable small-to-moderate positive relation between loot box spending and the symptoms of gambling exists.
Researchers Say Loot Boxes Resemble Slot Machines in Certain Way
As claimed by the new study, the above-mentioned relationship occurs through the encouragement of so-called in-game purchases, as well as by the existence of various purchase inducements, including offering some exclusive or special items like special skins for the game. Furthermore, analysts also found that excessive purchases within games were also encouraged by the variable-ratio reward schedule – a special feature known in conventional gambling that is normally used to promote frequent repetition of behavior.
The report states that many game developers create an atmosphere resembling slot machines by further promoting in-game purchases by using auditory and visual cues. Considering the fact that, for the time being, slot machines are strictly regulated in Australia and other countries around the world, it is reasonable today that loot boxes should be subject to the same regulation.
One of the main concerns identified by the study is the fact that some loot boxes practically meet the common legal criteria of gambling. In this sense, they require an entry cost, their outcome is based on chance, and a prize of value is offered to players. However, this seems not to be enough for some Governments to implement stricter regulation on the loot boxes in order to protect vulnerable players from the possible negative effects associated with them.
Given the proven correlation between in-game purchases and problem gambling behavior, the new meta-analysis suggests that the authorities should not only pay greater attention to the regulation of in-game purchases but also to the provision of professional help for players.
While it recommended some more research on the issue, the study claims that the effects of the proven link are terrible. It said that if loot boxes are disproportionately purchased by people who are avid gamblers and find it hard to control gambling-related harm, these findings need to be carefully considered in order for the authorities to try and minimize the potential harmful impact on vulnerable customers.