Are kids being targeted by a legal gateway to gambling?
BUNDABERG'S Quantum Lounge eSports Centre's Daniel Hicks has shared his thoughts on loot boxes as a new study on whether the boxes are grooming youth for gambling has been released.
As outlined in the recent report, spearheaded by Professor Matthew Rockloff, loot boxes are an in-game feature of many best selling video games where a player receives a virtual box that can be opened to reveal specific, and often randomly determined, in-game items or abilities that enhance gameplay across multiple sessions.
One of the researchers involved in the study, Dr Alex Russell, said unlike some in-game purchases where you know what you are paying for, loot boxes are typically a randomised reward.
He said there were three components to what is considered gambling; one is that you put money into a system, the second is that what happens to the money is determined, at least in part, by chance, and the third is that you get something of value or money out of the system.
"It looks like at least some loot boxes approximate gambling and maybe should be regulated," he said.
"And they are in Belgium and the Netherlands and some other places, but not in Australia yet because everyone's waiting for evidence tot see if there's a problem.
"Even if they are the type of loot box where you can't sell what you get out of the game, it's possible that you still get exposed to gambling mechanisms; the idea of not knowing what you're going to get, the excitement of the rare big win."
And because they're not regulated as gambling they are open to people under 18 years old.
Mr Hicks said while he didn't mind loot boxes, he prefers subscription boxes or season passes so he knows what he's getting for his money and in-game efforts.
"Loot boxes are much like Gashapon, you have an idea of what you 'might' get but it's still gambling your money as to what you will get," he said.
Mr Hicks said some games use this method to get users to spend money on in app purchases until they get that item they desire or to complete their set.
"I personally haven't seen a large increase in loot boxes in the last two years but it is there in a number of games," he said.
"I don't like the idea of it for children as it is essentially in game 'gambling' with real money.
"Such things are not normally allowed until either 18 or 21 in some countries.
"However it isn't the first method of gambling, trading card games have been doing it for decades with deck and booster packs which contain, usually, a random set of cards."
Mr Hicks said loot boxes should be carefully considered by parents and guardians and possibly have an academic study done by a gambling/psychology team on possibility of loot boxes having an effect of early stage gambling addiction.
"Loot boxes are a clever way to make a larger profit off in-game content that would otherwise normally only be accessible as either a once of purchase or through a subscription," he said.
This report, Loot Boxes: Are they grooming youth for gambling? was funded by the NSW Responsible Gambling Fund and outlined research aimed at understanding the risks posed by loot boxes to adolescents (12-17) and young adults (18-24) in NSW.
The exploration included a selection of 82 best selling video games and revealed 62 per cent (51) had loot boxes.
According to their survey, about a third (32.9 per cent) of the survey respondents who played games with loot boxes within the last 12 months had also purchased a loot box, and their median monthly expenditure was $50 for adolescents and $72 for young adults.
"Compared to other purchasers, young adults who more recently first purchased loot boxes were more likely to have gambling problems," the executive summary read.
"Conversely, there was no evidence that earlier experiences with loot boxes predict later gambling problems."
The executive summary went on to highlight broadly that both adolescents and young adults who had either opened, bought or sold loot boxes within the last 12 months were also more likely to have: 1) gambled in the last 12 months (young adults), 2) gambled more frequently (young adults), 3) spent more money gambling (young adults), 4) suffered more gambling problems (adolescents and young adults), 5) suffered more gambling-related harm (young adults), and 6) endorsed more positive attitudes towards gambling (adolescents and young adults).