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Loot boxes are "psychologically akin to gambling," Australian study finds

The Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC) conducted a study into the nature of loot boxes in games, and came away with startling results.

Over 7,000 players were surveyed, and the outcome of the study was revealed in an Australian senate public hearing by Dr David Zendle, and Dr Paul Cairns.

Among the players surveyed, those who suffer from a gambling addiction were found to be more likely to spend money on loot boxes, which the study says means that loot boxes in games have the same psychological motivations found in traditional gambling.

By the same token, loot boxes were found to be the cause for gambling-related problems, particularly when spending money on loot boxes is viewed as a sort of gateway drug that could cause players to spend problematic amounts of money on gambling.

"Spending large amounts of money on loot boxes was associated with problematic levels of spending on other forms of gambling. This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards," the study reads.

The study goes on to suggest that loot boxes share many similar characteristics with gambling, which enables them to "condition gamers to require the excitement associated with gambling, leading to problem gambling."

Because of this, having loot boxes in games allows publishers to exploit those with addictive tendencies, and it's why the study recommends limiting the sale of said games only to players of the legal gambling age in the country, or at the very least clearly note their presence on the box.

Finally, the study found that comparing video game loot boxes to Kinder eggs or trading card packs is misleading because of what it calls "formal similarities" shared between traditional gambling and loot boxes.

"Industry statements typically disassociate loot boxes from gambling. They instead highlight similarities between loot boxes and harmless products like trading cards or Kinder Surprise eggs," notes the paper.

"By contrast, researchers argue that loot boxes share so many formal similarities with other forms of gambling that they meet the 'psychological criteria' to be considered gambling themselves. These researchers further suggest that buying loot boxes may therefore lead to problem gambling amongst gamers."

Thanks, Games Industry.

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