GambleAware report suggests there are links between loot boxes and problem gambling

The UK gambling charity GambleAware has published a new report that suggests there are links between loot boxes and problem gambling.

The research was carried out by researchers from the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton and was funded by GambleAware, with the intention of exploring links between loot boxes in video games and problem gambling.

The researchers did not carry out a survey into the relationship between loot boxes and gambling harms, instead they conducted a secondary analysis of several reports that look at loot boxes.

What the study found

Researchers carried out six surveys of a combined 7,771 loot box purchasers and it was found that about 5% of those people surveyed generated approximately half of loot box revenue by spending more than £70 a month each.

The research noted that higher volume players displayed higher signs of risks of problem gambling as approximately a third of this group record a Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score of eight or above.

On the PGSI, respondents with a score of eight or above are classed as problem gamblers.

Dr James Close, Senior Research Fellow, University of Plymouth, said: “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 a number of policy suggestions to better manage these risks to vulnerable people, although broader consumer protections may also be required.”

The research also suggested that there was no relationship between spending levels and disposable income.

Based on the research and other studies that are available, the researchers determined that the size of the UK loot box market is approximately £700m.

Reachers also carried out a survey of loot box purchasers and found that these consumers were mostly young males and that males between the ages of 18 and 24 were the most common group to purchase loot boxes.

Respondents with lower levels of educational attainment, unemployed people and ehtnic minorities were also over-represented among loot box customers.

Based on the findings, researchers made several suggestions based on the findings which are intended to prevent gambling-related harms associated with loot boxes.These suggestions include:

  • Establishing a clear definition of loot boxes
  • Game labelling and enforceable age certifications
  • Full disclosure of odds presented in an easy to understand manner
  • Spending limits and prices displayed in real currency
  • The changes could be enforced through new regulations or changes to gambling laws

Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware, said: “This research is part of GambleAware’s continued commitment to protect children, adolescents and young people from gambling harms. The research has revealed that a high number of children who play video games also purchase loot boxes and we are increasingly concerned that gambling is now part of everyday life for children and young people. 

“GambleAware funded this research to highlight concerns around loot boxes and problem gambling, ahead of the upcoming Gambling Act Review.  It is now for politicians to review this research, as well as the evidence of other organisations, and decide what legislative and regulatory changes are needed to address these concerns.”

Loot boxes and gambling

Loot boxes are in-game digital features which contain randomised rewards that can be purchased with real money. 

These are considered to be similar to gambling and are being examined in the UK government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act.

In September 2020, the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) launched a call for evidence on the impact of loot boxes in video games to help determine whether they can lead to, or encourage, gambling-related problems.

In July 2020, a House of Lords’ Gambling Select Committee report argued that loot boxes should be regulated to help protect players. The report also said that the government should consider amending the Gambling Act to include loot box regulations. 

July also saw the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) partner with research teams from Newcastle and Loughborough Universities to launch a new online portal to help educate parents and carers on the risks of loot boxes.