Researchers have published new evidence linking video gaming to gambling addiction. Video games often have multiple layers and components that make up the experience. One of these components is the loot box, and it is here the proposed problem lies.
A loot box is an in-game item that can be bought with real-world money. The item is not revealed until after purchasing. In its place, there is often an animation resembling a gift-wrapped box, a treasure chest, or something similar.
The contents of the box are randomised, providing a gambling-like element to the purchase. It is the anticipation of the reward that is most addictive, rather than the actual item itself.
The feel-good factor
The typical response from a human brain in this sort of case is the release of dopamine. When dopamine is released, people feel happy and rewarded. Dopamine release is associated with gambling addiction, as well as smartphone addiction and even drug addiction.
Other in-game items may be available for purchase without being hidden inside a loot box. In these cases, there is little similarity to gambling, as the buyer knows exactly what they are going to get.
While the study showed a link between purchasing loot boxes and developing a gambling addiction, the researchers concluded that they are not able to say whether loot box purchasing actually leads to problem gambling.
It is just as possible that the individuals who spend real money on loot boxes are also already predisposed to a gambling addiction. Further research would be needed in order to establish a direction of causality.
Children play too
Over time, loot boxes have become a common occurrence in a variety of video games. This includes games that are played by children.
Anne Mette Thorhauge, Chairman of The National Council for Children in Denmark, told DR that she believes elements such as loot boxes in gaming are dangerous, and on the edge of what is legal. She described them as “problematic”.
Sarah Thiele, a prevention consultant at Denmark’s Centre For Problem Gambling, is also critical of the loot boxes. She pointed out to DR that more young people will need treatment for addiction, due to more people becoming interested in video games.
A case for reform
By the end of 2018, the total amount of revenue that will have been generated by loot boxes is estimated to reach $30 billion. There is no financial incentive for game creators to remove them, but there may be a moral one.
The researchers are calling for regulation and restriction. In some places, such as Belgium, this has already happened. In April 2018, Belgium declared loot boxes to be illegal under their gambling laws.
In the meantime, it will be up to each country’s regulatory organisations to decide where the line goes between loot boxes and gambling.
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