The lines between gaming and gambling have begun to blur, state researchers — ScienceDaily


Players who purchase Loot Crates are up to two times more likely to play, new research published today in the peer-reviewed journal shows Addiction Research & Theory.

They are also more likely to have a gambling problem compared to those who don’t buy these “virtual” treasure chests, according to findings from more than 1,600 adults in Canada.

The authors say the findings cast doubt on the theory that psychological factors make the link between gambling and loot boxes – which are being banned by some countries, including Belgium, and are being debated for legislation in many other countries around the world.

Their study shows that the association between these video game features and gambling holds even when childhood neglect, depression, and other known risk factors for gambling are factored in.

The authors say their findings have potential implications for policymakers and public health. They call for more research into the benefits of mitigation features, which some online platforms have already implemented – such as letting players know the odds of winning when they buy a loot box.

“The results suggest that loot box purchases are an important risk marker for gambling and problem gambling in people who play video games,” says Sophie Coelho, a doctoral student at York University, Toronto.

“The persistent associations we observed between loot box purchases and gambling may provide tentative support for the role of loot boxes as a ‘gateway’ to gambling and eventually problem gambling.

“Loot boxes can encourage people to gamble and increase vulnerability to problem gambling.”

Loot boxes designed to attract the player’s attention are usually purchased with real money and contain a random selection of virtual objects such as weapons or new characters and, unlike online gambling, are largely unregulated.

There is already evidence linking loot box purchases to gambling and problem gambling. What is still unknown is whether this occurs due to known psychological risk factors associated with gambling.

For this study, the authors analyzed loot box purchases over the past year among 1,189 students at five Canadian universities and 499 adults recruited from an online crowdsourcing platform and an online poll/survey site.

All participants, ages 18 and older, completed an online questionnaire about their video game and addiction behaviors, mental health, and other issues.

The study considered a larger number of psychological risk factors for gambling than previous research. These included emotional distress, a tendency to act rashly when excited, and negative childhood experiences, including abuse and neglect.

The results showed that a similar proportion (17%) of students and community participants purchased loot boxes, averaging $90.63 and $240.94, respectively. The majority of both groups of participants identified as male.

Over a quarter (28%) of students who bought loot boxes reported gambling in the past year, compared to 19% of non-buyers. More than half (57%) of the community adults who bought them and 38% of non-buyers had played.

Students who reported riskier loot box buying habits (e.g., buying more loot boxes) were more likely to have poorer gaming habit. However, this was not the case for the community participants, which the researchers attribute to a small sample size.

Of all psychological risk factors, adverse childhood experiences were most consistently associated with an increased likelihood of past year gambling and greater problem gambling.

The authors say this may indicate that people with difficult parenting backgrounds have an “increased susceptibility” to developing gambling problems. They add: “This can be done by engaging with gambling-like features embedded in video games, such as B. Loot Crates, to be reinforced.”

However, although the scientific team adjusted “for a wide range of transdiagnostic psychological variables,” they state that one of the limitations of their study is that they did not consider every single psychological, sociodemographic, or gaming or gambling-related variable that could confound associations between Lootbox purchase and gambling – some of which “undoubtedly exist”.