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Australian study warns of link between loot boxes and problem gambling

"These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling," reads a statement shared along with the findings published by the committee today.

An Australian committee has released the findings of an investigation on loot boxes in video games started earlier this year, reporting that loot boxes and problem gambling are linked and that the monetization practice comes with “a serious risk […] to cause gambling-related harm.”

The debate about loot boxes and their connection to gambling has been raging for quite some time at this point, but the Australian government’s investigation and findings back a growing number of lawmaking bodies and regulatory committees working to impose or encourage regulation of the practice.

In the case of this investigation, and according to information on the study shared by Lexology, researchers looked at a sample size of roughly 7,500 individuals and found “important links between loot box spending and problem gambling.”

The report notes that players with severe gambling problems were more likely to spend large sums on loot boxes in video games, and that its findings suggest that loot boxes can act as a gateway to problem gambling and that the monetization practice itself gives game companies “an unregulated way of exploiting gambling disorders amongst their customers.” 

“These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling,” reads a statement shared along with the findings, shortly after calling back to an earlier quote from the ESRB that likened loot boxes to baseball cards. “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 report suggests that games move to better disclose the fact that they contain loot boxes by carrying parental advisories, and that games “carry descriptors that indicate the presence of in-game gambling content,” a step already in the works for ESRB rated games.  The investigators also recommended lawmakers consider restricting games with loot boxes to players of legal gambling age, though later in the report they note some of the Australia-specific complexities and histories of loot box and gambling-related laws. 

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