Study Linking Loot Boxes to Gambling Harm Nears Release

Today David Zendle, Cade McCall, Herbie Barnett, and Paul Cairns released a preprint of a study done in part for the Australia Senate and its inquiry on micro-transactions in video games. An unpublished supplement of this was sent off to the Senate, and will not be public till the Senate has had a chance to review it first.

Click here for study preprint

On 9/17 Dr.Zendle and Dr. Cairns testified live via Skype from the UK to Australia. The Senate asked some questions that Dr. Zendle and Dr. Cairns had data on, but had not compiled results on. The Senate granted an extension, essentially postponing any recommendations and actions till they could analyze the data and answer the Senate’s further questions.

The fact that the Australian Senate postponed any actions pending this one study adds tremendous weight to what it has to say. This preprint is a glimpse of what the Senate now has to review, and should be taken with great seriousness to any effected parties.

Perhaps the plainest results of the study was done by comparing pay to win, skins loot boxes, paid loot boxes, rewarded loot boxes etc., allowing the researchers to confidently conclude the following;

Paying real-world money for loot boxes is linked to gambling related harm, regardless of the features of loot boxes themselves.

This adds a layer that game developers do not want attached to their industry. Current debate on the inclusion of video game addiction criteria into the DSM is being met with massive opposition from the industry. The gambling criteria is already accepted in the DSM, and applying it to certain monetization in video games opens up a second front the lobbyist and the like have to fight against. To be honest, they don’t need to fight it, but will, and are to keep lining their pockets.

So what does problem gambling or gambling addiction look like? This is the criteria applied to players that purchased loot boxes in video games….

A. Persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the following in a 12-month period:

1. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.

2. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.

3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.

4. Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).

5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).

6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses).

7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.

8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.

9. Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

B. The gambling behavior is not better explained by a manic episode.

Line 6 might seem out of place for a video game, but it isn’t. Personally I have been hit by another player and lost badly. My attitude shifted through a spectrum of emotions to a conclusion that I can afford to build bigger and get them back. It is pretty much the same thing as returning to get even. It is actually literally the same thing, just figuratively different.

So how serious is the issue of loot boxes as gambling in video games? The current international climate is peppered with regulatory disdain over this and other practices by developers. Loot boxes are the center pin to the issue right now, and it is a genie the industry is unwilling to place back in the bottle. Why? Because loot boxes literally make the industry billions of dollars above any other income they would receive without their inclusions.

Some examples of action being taken around the world;

  1. China has suspended the approval of ALL video games until further notice
  2. Belgium is prosecuting EA over loot boxes in some of its game
  3. Netherlands have ruled some loot boxes as gambling, and subject to massive fines
  4. 15 countries signed an agreement for further action against loot box harm
  5. Australia looking into solutions and legislation

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