Study warns loot boxes linked to gambling behavior in some gamers

A new study has validated concerns about 'loot boxes' in video games, confirming that they are linked to problematic gambling behaviors in some players. These issues span different aspects of loot boxes, including cases where players spend too much money on loot boxes in hopes of getting a rare item and playing a game too long in order to earn more loot boxes.

Loot boxes are increasingly common in-game elements where players open a crate, box, chest, or some other similar virtual storage item to reveal rewards inside. Many games work by offering players a small number of loot boxes either randomly or as a result of grinding away in long hours of gameplay; to get more, players are often required to spend either real or virtual currency (the latter of which is often available to purchase with real money).

In addition to offering a potential rush for players who don't know what to expect from the box, these loot crates often also restrict valuable and actually useful items to rare quantities, meaning players typically end up with low-value and useless items like verbal emotes and new weapon skins.

A number of people, including the parents of young kids, have raised concerns over these loot boxes and their similarities to gambling. Some gamers have reported struggling with excessive gameplay or purchases related to loot boxes, and a number of parents have reported experiencing similar issues with their children.

New research out of the University of British Columbia has confirmed that some gamers exhibit behaviors and beliefs similar to those found in problem gamblers. Of note, the researchers discovered that the troublesome actions and beliefs are linked with loot boxes specifically, indicating that it is the gambling-like crates component, not the games in general, that are the problem.

The question remains, however, whether loot boxes cause the gambling-like behavior, or whether some players are predisposed to these problematic actions and loot boxes are merely the mechanism that brings out the issues. The study looked specifically at adult gamers, but concerns remain over children and teenagers who are exposed to these reward systems.