Researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Gambling Research have produced a paper linking loot boxes in video games and addictive gambling behavior. The study, titled “Associations between loot box use, problematic gaming and gambling, and gambling-related cognitions,” concludes that yes, loot boxes are a form of gambling, and as such, they should likely be regulated by government agencies.
The study, conducted by students Gabriel A. Brooks and Luke Clark, polled 113 undergraduates (Group 1) and 144 respondents from Amazon MTurk (Group 2), asking them about their experiences with loot boxes and their opinions of them. Virtually all (93.8% from Group 1/97.4% from Group 2) reported having played a game with loot boxes, with 88.9%/94.8% having opened a loot box (though only 49.3%/60.3% ever purchased one).
Despite games usually making it difficult or impossible — and sometimes illegal — for players to profit from loot boxes, 27.8%/39.7% said they had sold a loot box or loot box item, with 18.1%/25.9% saying they’d earned a profit from such activity. Monthly loot box spending was $17.50, with 10% spending $50 or more per month.
In terms of addiction potential, the study reports that 68.1%/86.2% of respondents believed that loot boxes were a form of gambling. The paper concludes that
“These results demonstrate that besides the surface similarity of loot boxes to gambling, loot box engagement is correlated with gambling beliefs and problematic gambling behaviour in adult gamers.”
While I do tend to agree with the general sentiment of the paper and its conclusions, the methodology requires some analysis. As mentioned, the two groups polled were from Amazon MTurk and undergraduate students from the University. MTurk relies on poorly paid labor — both I and my partner have tried them in the past and have some personal experience — that prioritizes speed and efficiency over accuracy for its surveys. Surveying undergraduate students isn’t much better; they’re cheap and easily available and, well, you get what you pay for.
On the other hand, a significant issue with using such samples is that they aren’t typically representative of the audience you’re trying to account for in your study. In this case, the survey respondents tended to be fairly young (in the case of the students) or have access to computers and a fair amount of free time (in the case of MTurk), which is rather representative of the general gaming public. Things might be different if the survey was about, say, grocery purchases or home ownership.
In any case, if you want to check the survey out for yourself, or at least its synopsis, you can do so via the Addictive Behaviors journal page.