Loot boxes are "psychologically akin to gambling", according to Australian study

Loot boxes in games could lead to problem gambling, according to a study by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee. Over 7,400 game enthusiasts were surveyed for the study, the results of which were presented during a public hearing in Canberra yesterday, as part of the Australian senate inquiry into micro-transactions and chance-based items. 

Participants who suffered a serious gambling problem were more likely to spend money on loot boxes, the study found. "These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling," reads the submission. 

"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 is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards."

The report suggests that loot boxes could act as a gateway to problem gambling, noting that loot boxes share "important characteristics" with problem gambling. "They may therefore condition gamers to require the excitement associated with gambling , leading to problem gambling." The opposite could be true, too, so says the study: problem gamblers might find themselves attracted to loot boxes.

Among the ECRC's recommendations is that games with loot boxes be restricted to players of legal gambling age (18-years-old, in Australia). Games would also be required to carry warnings about the presence of loot boxes, as well as parental advisories.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.