Study: Gambling in Video Games Goes Way Beyond Loot Boxes

Posted on: July 16, 2020, 04:47h. 

Last updated on: July 17, 2020, 08:20h.

The debate over gambling content in video games intensified in the UK this week, as a study released Wednesday argued that the practice goes far beyond loot boxes and into other gaming activities, including problem gambling. 

Video Games Gambling
Players compete in Texas Hold’em poker as part of online play in Red Dead Redemption 2. (Image: Rockstar Games)

University of York professor David Zendle authored the study, which looked at the gaming and gambling habits of a representative sample of 1,081 UK adults.

The study found that 18.5 percent of respondents engaged in behaviors that were related to both gambling and gaming. That included spending money on loot boxes, but also activities including social casino games, esports betting, and watching others gamble or open loot boxes online.

The term “loot boxes” refers to any element in a game where players purchase (either with real money or in-game currency) a randomized reward that they can open without knowing what they will receive. The rewards can range from cosmetic items to players for multiplayer modes in sports games like FIFA.

Study Links Video Game Activities to Problem Gambling

The study also measured gambling tendencies in participants. Zendle found a significant link between video-game related gambling practices and problem gambling. Several individual behaviors shared that link as well, including watching gambling on Twitch, social casino spending, and esports betting.

These findings suggest that the relationship between gaming and problem gambling is more complex than many people think,” Zendle said in a statement. “When we go beyond loot boxes, we can see that there are multiple novel practices in gaming that incorporate elements of gambling. All of them are linked to problem gambling, and all seem prevalent.”

Zendle called for closer scrutiny of what he called “loopholes” that allow some aspects of games to avoid being regulated as gambling.

“For example, social casinos are ‘video games’ that are basically a simulation of gambling: you can spend real money in them and the only thing that stops them being regulated as proper gambling is that winnings cannot be converted into cash,” Zendle said. “We need to have regulations in place that address all of the similarities between gambling and video games.”

Zendle was among a number of academics from the University of York who contributed to a House of Commons inquiry last year which led to a report calling for loot boxes to be regulated as a form of gambling. Zendle also contributed to the recent House of Lords select committee report that made a similar recommendation.

Professor: ‘Apocalyptically Stupid’ Policy

Not everyone agrees that loot boxes amount to gambling.

If loot boxes are bad I want to know why they’re bad,” professor Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute told Business Insider. “I want harmful things in games to be identified and removed. But I just get a sense people are going to pat themselves on the back, say ‘job done,’ and a decade from now there’ll be more than 55,000 problem gamblers between the ages of 11 and 16.”

Przybylski also called a blanket definition of loot boxes as gambling would be “apocalyptically stupid,” because it would impact a wide range of games with very different elements.