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Public investigation finds loot boxes are "psychologically akin to gambling"

Report suggests restricting sale of games containing loot boxes to players of legal gambling age

A survey of over 7,000 gamers has found "important links between loot box spending and problem gambling".

Presented to the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC), the survey was sparked in response to a academic journal article published in Nature Human Behaviour, titled 'Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling'.

The results were revealed this week during a public hearing by the ECRC, led by Dr David Zendle and Dr Paul Cairns of York St. John University and University of York respectively.

Zendle and Cairns' investigation found the more severe an individual's gambling addiction, the more they typically spent on loot boxes, suggesting the results support claims that loot boxes are "psychologically akin to gambling".

The report added that "these results also suggest that there is a serious risk for loot boxes to cause gambling-related harm".

In particular, the report suggested, loot boxes could act as a gateway to problem gambling among gamers, and provide gaming companies with an unregulated way of "exploiting gambling disorders among their customers".

Considering the survey findings, it was recommended that games containing loot boxes carry parental advisories and a description that clearly state the presence of "in-game gambling content".

Additionally, restricting the sale of games that contain loot boxes to players of the legal gambling age should be given "serious consideration".

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

"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."

The report continued, suggesting that 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 reads. "It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards."

The full report and executive summary can be downloaded here.

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