Loot boxes, video game features used by nearly 40% of children, have obvious links to problem gambling, according to a study that has revived calls for their regulation as betting products.
Researchers analyzed 13 studies on the behavior of players who spend on loot boxes, which allow players to spend money on random in-game rewards that can help players progress or improve the appearance of characters, without knowing what they will get.
All but one of the studies showed a clear correlation between the use of loot boxes and problem gambling behavior, according to the commonly used measure of the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI).
They were “structurally and psychologically related” to gambling, according to the report, but are used by nearly half of children who play video games.
Around 5% of loot box users generate half of the £ 700million video game companies make from them each year and around a third of that group are problem gamers, the report says.
Despite growing concerns about their features and growing popularity, loot boxes remain unregulated in the UK, while countries like Belgium view them as gaming products.
Conservative MP Richard Holden said it was a “loophole” in the law.
“They are regulated in the same way as football stickers when I was a child and it is clear that these products have evolved much faster than the laws that govern them,” he said. “Real regulatory action is needed as soon as possible.”
GambleAware, the main gaming charity that commissioned the report, also supported tighter regulations.
« […] We are increasingly concerned that play is now part of the daily life of children and young people, ”said CEO Zoë Osmond.
“GambleAware funded this research to highlight concerns about loot boxes and problem gambling ahead of the next Gambling Act review.
“It is now up to politicians to consider this research, as well as the evidence from other organizations, and decide on the legislative and regulatory changes needed to address these concerns.”
The government has said it will consider classifying loot boxes as gambling, as part of its ongoing review of the sector. A consultation period informing ministers and officials overseeing the review ended this week.
Researchers at the Universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton, who wrote the report, called for clear labeling and age classification of loot boxes, as well as disclosure of ratings, tools to limit spending on purpose and prices in real currency.
In practice, an age rating alone is likely to mean the end of most loot boxes, as that would mean that many video games have a rating of over 18.