Loot Boxes ‘Akin to Gambling,’ According to New Australian Investigation

A survey by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC) has found loot boxes to be “psychologically akin to gambling.” The results of the survey, which polled 7,422 people, were revealed today and follows a growing trend of governments investigating in loot box systems.

Dr. David Zendle of York St. John University and Dr. Paul Cairns of the University of York conducted the study. Many loot box systems meet the five criteria of gambling described by Mark Griffiths in Adolescent Gambling. There are also some loot box systems that allow players to exchange in-game rewards for real-world money which is a common criterion for gambling.

Their study found links between loot box spending and problem gambling. They found a correlation between the seriousness of a person’s gambling problem and their spending on loot boxes. According to the study, these results support their claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling.

They believe that loot boxes could pose gambling-related harm, acting as a gateway to problem gambling. Loot boxes are also a near-unregulated way of exploiting their customers. According to a study by Juniper Research, loot boxes and in-game gambling could net publishers nearly $30 billion this fiscal year.

The study suggests that games containing loot boxes have parental warnings, carry descriptors indicative of the presence of in-game gambling content, and a consideration to restrict games with loot boxes to players of the legal gambling age, which is 18 in Australia.

Australia is a part of a growing group of governments investigating and regulating loot boxes. Earlier today 15 countries announced they will be working to “address the risk created by the blurring lines between gaming and gambling.” Belgium and Netherlands pushed for criminal prosecution of companies like EA and Blizzard if they don’t adhere to the Belgian Gaming Commissions advice. Belgium and Netherlands then blocked loot boxes in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and several other titles in July.

The full study and supplements can be found here.