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Loot boxes in video games are a lot like gambling – people can become addicted

Posted May 19, 2019

If you are not a gamer, you may not even know what a loot box is. It is a virtual box found in various video games. You can open this box to find a random item – it can be a customization option, a weapon, armour or something similar. In many games, you have to pay in order to receive or open a loot box. But is it fair? Scientists from The University of British Columbia say that it is a form of gambling.

Loot boxes are like mystery treasure chests, but you have to pay to open them. And sometimes you get less than you expected. Image credit: badaman via Wikimedia

Of course, there is nothing wrong with paying for some virtual items you use in gaming. If you’re into it – more power to you. The problem is that children get drawn into that kind of deals very easily and spend a lot of money without getting valuable prizes. In fact, you don’t even know the value of the item that you’re getting. Scientists say that this makes loot boxes a lot like gambling, which is terribly addictive. Researchers decided to check how closely linked loot boxes are to gambling.

Scientists created five questions in order to measure excessive or risky use of loot boxes. These included “I frequently play games longer than I intend to, so I can earn loot boxes” and “I have bought more loot boxes after failing to receive valuable items” – North American participants of the study had to rate themselves according to these statements. Participants, who were of at least university age, also had to complete surveys that are actually designed to assess gambling addiction. Scientists found clear links between gambling scores and inclination to seek loot boxes. In fact, they found a smaller correlation between loot boxes and problem video gaming.

The data is showing significant overlap between risky loot box use and gambling behaviours. However, we still don’t know if one causes the other. It could be that people with tendencies to gamble are more likely to indulge in loot boxes, but it could also be that loot boxes lead to gambling behaviours. In order to determine the answer, scientists would have to conduct more research, involving people struggling with gambling addiction. Gabriel Brooks, lead author of the study, said: “Our data involved adult gamers. There has been substantial concern regarding the impact of loot boxes upon youth. Studying youth exposure to loot box mechanisms would be a logical next step”.

Loot boxes are addictive – anyone who played video games for some time knows that. 90 % of people involved in this study said that they opened at least one loot box and around one half has paid money on them. Furthermore, about one-third reported having sold a loot box item. If you can make money on them, it becomes even more addictive.


Source: UBC

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