Loot boxes too similar to “problem gambling” to avoid regulation, report says

A new study attempts to connect the dots between opening video game loot boxes and replicating "problem gambling" behaviors.

Enlarge / A new study attempts to connect the dots between opening video game loot boxes and replicating “problem gambling” behaviors. (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson / Sam Machkovech)

We’ve had a lot to say about loot boxes in video games, and in the wake of our own reviews and rants about their growing prominence, regulation and public scrutiny have followed. Researchers have entered the loot box conversation in droves as well, but a new report published by researchers on Friday seeks to answer a key question that it claims has been left untouched by other academics: why do gamers buy loot boxes?

In trying to answer that question, the report, commissioned by gambling-protection advocacy group BeGambleAware, suggests that loot box purchasing motivations are directly correlated with “problem gambling” behaviors. That data drives the report’s conclusion: regulators should apply the same rules to loot boxes that they do to other forms of gambling, because despite seeming differences, they have enough in common to merit stricter controls.

From Skinner boxes to FIFA cards

Much of the study, co-authored by four British universities and one private gambling-research firm, summarizes and describes both the history of loot box monetization and the subsequent blowback, whether from fans, critics, or regulators. The report also outlines the amount of internal regulation done by game companies in response. (Ars was not contacted ahead of this study’s publication, so we only learned today that we are among the outlets cited.)

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