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Loot boxes continue to be one of the games industry's biggest problems after new research has verified that there is a "robust" link between gambling issues and 'surprise mechanics'. If you're into online games you've probably come across loot systems that randomly supply rewards and have possibly been tempted to purchase these items for more opportunity to get a skin, a player, an emote that you want. Now, according to the BBC, new research backs up the long-held theory that loot boxes contribute negatively to developing gambling habits.
From Overwatch to Hearthstone. From FIFA to Apex Legends. From Fortnite to League of Legends. There are a huge variety of games that use loot boxes, or "surprise mechanics" to incentivise gamers to spend money. Some of these, like Hearthstone and FIFA, will see actual changes to gameplay with rewards from loot boxes, while others may be purely cosmetic. However, they all feed into the same issue - potential gambling problems.
GambleAware commissioned the research which took place at the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton. The results show several statistics that are worrying like the fact that of the 93% of kids that are playing games, up to 40% of them are engaging with loot boxes. And loot boxes are being connected to problematic gambling behaviours further down the line in life.
And currently, the groups that contribute most to paying for loot boxes are "problem gamblers" and "young people" - both groups that shouldn't be encouraged to pursue "games of chance". Two surveys have shown that engaging with loot boxes during adolescence establishes a stronger link with problem gambling for those individuals later down the line. In one of the surveys that link became twice as strong.
Additionally, those spending money on loot boxes aren't always the most financially stable. The study showed that those who were out of work were the most likely to be spending on boxes. It's also evident that those spending the most in-game are likely to be problem gamers rather than wealthy individuals.
So, what needs to change? Well, the research suggests new legislation going forward to regulate the appearance of loot boxes in games. Policy guidelines need to include "clear definitions of loot boxes, game labelling and age ratings, full disclosure of odds presented in an easy-to-understand way, spending limits and prices in real currency, and finally, obligations of gatekeepers (i.e. developers, distributors, content providers) for the trade they enable and profit from."
Hopefully, this research is useful for future UK government decisions when it comes to loot box regulation. The BBC does point out that the House of Lords has already previously called for regulations on loot boxes last year, though changes have not yet come into place - perhaps this new study will kickstart a fresh attempt at policy change.
Featured Image Credit: EA / Blizzard
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