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Doing this in video games could be gateway to gambling addiction

Many countries have already seen the dangers of these virtual treasures.

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Casino chips stacking on a laptop.
(Greens and Blues via Shutterstock)

By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Buying loot boxes in video games could be a ‘gateway’ to gambling addiction, warns a new study.

People who buy loot boxes in video games are two times more likely to gamble. They are also more likely to have a gambling problem compared to gamers who don’t buy virtual treasure chests.

Designed to grab a player’s attention, loot boxes are usually bought with real-world money and often contain random virtual objects. They could contain weapons or new characters and are largely unregulated unlike online gambling.

Many countries have already seen the dangers of these virtual treasures. In 2018 Belgium banned this feature and now other countries across the globe are discussing legislation over them.

Loot boxes encourage the spending of real money and often appear as a game of chance, as a player won’t know what is inside until they have bought it, making it a form of gambling.

Sophie Coelho, a PhD student at York University, Toronto, and author of the study, said: “Findings indicate that loot box purchasing represents an important marker of risk for gambling and problem gambling among people who play video games.

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

“Loot boxes may prime people to gamble and increase susceptibility to problem gambling.”

For this study, the researchers analyzed past year loot box purchases among 1,189 students at five Canadian universities. They also studied 499 adults recruited from an online crowdsourcing platform and an online survey site.

Aged 18 and above, all participants completed an online questionnaire about their video gaming and addictive behaviors, their mental health and other issues.

The study also took into account a larger number of psychological risk factors for gambling than previous research. These included emotional distress, the tendency to act rashly when upset, and adverse childhood experiences including abuse and neglect.

They found that 17 percent of the students and those recruited on the online platforms bought loot boxes. On average they spent $90.63 and $240.94 respectively. This is around £75 and £201.

The majority of those who purchased loot boxes identified as male in both groups.

Out of the students who bought loot boxes, 28 percent of them reported gambling in the past year, while only 19 per cent of non-purchasers reported the same.

From the online community, 57 percent of those who purchased loot boxes said they had gambled in the past year, while only 38 per cent of the people who didn’t buy one said the same.

Students who had the riskier loot box purchasing habits, such as those who bought a lot of them, were more likely to have a worse gambling habit.

However, this wasn’t the same for the online community participants. The researchers put this down 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 researchers suggest that people with troubled upbringings have a ‘heightened vulnerability’ to developing gambling problems.

Coelho said: “This may be compounded by engaging with gambling-like features embedded in video games, such as loot boxes.”

Yet despite adjusting for different psychological variables, the researchers were limited as they couldn’t take into consideration every single psychological, sociodemographic, gaming or gambling related issue that could affect buying loot boxes and gambling.

These findings have potential implications for policymakers and for healthcare.

The authors are now calling for more research into the benefit of adding in features to games that can minimize the harm they cause. One feature is to tell players the odds of winning when they buy a box, which some online platforms have already implemented.

This study is published in the journal Addiction Research & Theory.

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