Young gamers say video game loot boxes ‘addictive,’ users more likely to suffer gambling problems

Published:10 August 2020

Professor Matthew Rockloff leads CQUniversity's Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory.

Young video gamers invited to buy in-game “loot boxes” are more likely to gamble in real life, new CQUniversity research has found.

A study by CQU’s Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory (EGRL), funded by the NSW Government’s Responsible Gambling Fund, shows the gamers who buy the popular gaming feature tend to gamble more often, and gamble larger amounts than those who don’t.

Loot boxes are an in-game feature of many bestselling video games. A loot box is a virtual box that can be opened to reveal in-game items or abilities that enhance gameplay.

Loot boxes are similar to a lucky dip prize or packaged trading cards, where a prize is guaranteed but the value of the prize is not certain.

The study showed 62 per cent of best-selling games included loot boxes, with popular titles like Angry Birds, Counter Strike and Halo requiring credit card payments to access them.

Of nearly 2000 young people (aged 12 to 24) surveyed for the study, 93.2 per cent had played a video game with loot boxes in the past 12 months, and a third regularly purchased loot boxes.

Study co-author, Dr Alex Russell noted, “Most of our survey NSW respondents played games with loot boxes, were aware of them, and had opened them.”

Most young people agreed that loot boxes are addictive.

“Loot boxes in video games are similar to gambling, since players invest time and money obtaining them, and there’s a thrill around the possibility of gaining a rare and valuable reward,” Dr Russell explained.

Study lead author Professor Matthew Rockloff, who worked alongside Dr Russell, Nancy Greer, Dr Lisa Lolé, Professor Nerilee Hing and Professor Matthew Browne, said, “They are a growing concern because of the risk and reward elements associated with them that is similar to gambling and there are currently no age limits to play these games.”

The median monthly expenditure for adolescent (12-17) who bought loot boxes was $50.

Dr Russell advised parents to learn more about the risks around loot boxes and approach the issue openly with their kids.

“Video games need monitoring, and that includes money being spent on in-game purchases,” Dr Russell said.

“Parents will have a better idea of what’s being spent, and the habits their children are forming, if they educate themselves about the game, and approach it with an open mind about the positive skills involved in the game, as well as the potential issues.”