New UK research finds opening lootboxes is ‘structurally and psychologically akin’ to gambling

    
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The mountain of research-based evidence against lootboxes has had another leaflet added to the pile. A recent report from researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton in the UK has concluded that opening gaming lockboxes is “structurally and psychologically akin” to gambling.

The research, commissioned by the GambleAware charity, analyzed 13 previous studies into the behaviors of gamers who purchased lootboxes, compiling them to examine the strength of links between lootbox buying habits and gambling habits. Twelve of the studies found an “unambiguous” link between the two, with games using what the research calls a “psychological nudge” to encourage people to buy loot boxes. Of the 93% of children that play games with lockboxes, 40% have opened them, and about 5% of gamers generate half the entire revenue from lootbox sales.

The research is part of an ongoing call by the UK Parliament to review the country’s existing Gambling Act. The deadline for all research to be turned in is March 31st, after which the UK government is expected to publish its conclusions and reform proposals in a whitepaper later this year.

Conservative MP Richard Holden is among those calling for lootboxes to be included in the UK Gambling Act, saying, “They are regulated in the same way as football stickers were when I was a kid and it is clear that these products have moved on so much faster than the laws governing them.” A spokesperson for Ukie, the UK games industry’s trade body, responded by saying the country’s games industry has already taken action regarding the matter:

“Probability disclosures has already been introduced to the major game platforms; a new paid random item descriptor was added to the PEGI age rating system in 2020 to inform players of their presence; settings and tools on all major game devices – and in a number of leading games – already allow players to manage, limit or turn off spend.”

Further reading about lootboxes and UK gambling laws:

sources: BBC, The Guardian, Lexology, thanks to the Dead Secret World Game for the tip!
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cannotweep

The universities of Plymouth and W-hatever should probably have their research budgets looked into.

Swifty
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Swifty

Also, water is wet, more at 11.

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Armsman

Beat me to it. ;)

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McGuffn

This confirms my anecdotal evidence. Also:

“and about 5% of gamers generate half the entire revenue from lootbox sales.”

The industry really needs to honor these people by inducting them into a hall of fame. They’ve sacrificed a lot and deserve to be remembered.

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Bruno Brito

THANKS TO THE DEAD SECRET WORLD GAME FOR THE TIP!

wat

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Jaymes Buckman

Yeah, what?

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Arktouros

A user named “Dead Secret World Game” sent in a link to the article presumably.

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Jaymes Buckman

I wondered if it was that simple. It wasn’t something buried in the code of a rogue server of the launch version of The Secret World or something then?

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Bruno Brito

I have so many questions.

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SwordBreaker35

Don´t need research to point that out. Any idiot could point out that lootbox is just another way of gambling.

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Dankey Kang

Unfortunately though you do need that research as leverage in order enact change.

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Arktouros

Having skimmed through the actual report a few days ago and it’s just more survey based garbage science standing on top of other survey based garbage science. Surveys are the absolute least reliable scientific method of conducting research.

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Fisty

The fact these studies need to be done is bonkers. It is interesting to see the percentages, but its some Captain Obvious level stuff anyway.

All I think of are those shitty ass ESO crates. They’re the worst. /shake fist.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I mean, a lot of ESO’s philosophy seems to be built around this idea. They made an awesome ‘account wide’ idea behind a lot of things, and then put it all as ‘You have to gamble or play every day so you’re lured in here to keep p(l)aying to get your fix’. It’s one reason I’m very iffy on funding them anymore after my paid year. Even though yeah, lots of the game has fun aspects…(I even logged back in recently and have been putzing around grabbing event stuff…but it’s filling my inventories up with crud with the ‘expectation’ that I would have to pay again to get craft bag back…and I’m like…’How bout you give me that WITHOUT charging me for it, and maybe I’ll keep paying you?’ They dropped their Greymoor to just under $10 and I was curious about the antiquities system…but I have no real reason to upgrade, because I’d also have to be paying the money for ESO+ to be able to even play without my inventory becoming inundated…)

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Fisty

If they didnt have that craft bag, theyd never get another sub out of me. Id still buy the unlocks and DLC, but that crafting bag is all that keeps most people subbed. Im not even a huge crafter, but inventory management is awful, so gimme that void to throw in all this barley.

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Arktouros

Of all the loot boxes I’ve bought I actually found ESO crates the best version of them. Even if you start getting duplicates, and even some non-duplicates, you can sell them for gems and then choose what you want to buy.

Meanwhile I’m over here in POE where I have 30 pairs of the same cosmetic shoes and I can’t do shit with them.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

But see, that’s part of the point I was making. I’d gladly pay for PERMANENT access to the crafting bag. But they’ve got you ‘hooked’ on paying regular bits for it, along WITH paying for new content or ‘DLC’. That’s like saying a few tweaks in a line of code has a monetary value of thousands of dollars. (Remind you of bitcoins?) They’ve got you all jone’sin for your next fix, and siphoning money out of you at their leisure. It’s not about ‘maintenance’ costs at this point, they are purely taking advantage of people.

Leo
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Leo

It can help having these studies for obvious things though, it can be something to show around to politicians, bureaucrats, and business peeps that might be totally divorced from the topic

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Fisty

Oh, its definitely for the bureaucracy. Its also true most business peeps and politicians are divorced from most things everyday people do.

Sad they need to be done though.

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Arktouros

These kind of trash survey studies don’t need to be done anymore, but they’re repeatedly done about once each year usually citing the last few years of trash survey studies as scientific fact. I believe the goal is create a scenario where they can say there’s an “overwhelming amount of evidence” when all it is a bunch of garbage science that’s used to support the conclusion they already had in the first place.

What I’m still waiting on is a real study where they bring in actual people and measure responses or potential changes in behavior and other impacts upon people like you see done with video game violence studies. The reason we likely won’t see one of those is because they take funding and it’s not like the video game industry has any interest in funding researching if loot boxes are problem gambling causing.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

It’s structural. Academic research requires a lot of “well, duh” studies done prior to anything really ground breaking.

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cannotweep

Who pays for all the “well, duh” studies? Bankers? Tech CEOs?

Swifty
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Swifty

Don’t buy them.

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Vincent Clark

“5% of gamers generate half the entire revenue from lootbox sales”

That made me giggle. Cough-whales-Cough

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IronSalamander8 .

As someone who used to play Magic:The Gathering, I thought this was self-evident. Opening the packs and seeing what you got is a part of the appeal of the CCG model which is the precursor to loot boxes in video games.

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Arktouros

The report actually calls this out and states specifically if/when loot boxes regulated under the same laws then they’ll have to address all the other systems that function the same like card game packs and such.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Good. Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro are right up there with EA in needing a good smack in the bottom line for their malfeasance.

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Arktouros

I dunno I wouldn’t be too eager to have people calling out designs based on randomized mechanics. Virtually every argument they make against gamble boxes can be directly applied to most game mechanics in almost every major RPG style game as well.

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Jaymes Buckman

The difference is payment.

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Arktouros

The difference for now is payment.

However it’s incredibly naive to think an industry of people who adopted such predatory business practices are just going to be like, “Oh, well everyone outlawed loot boxes, I guess I have to go back non predatory business models.”

That isn’t just speculation, either. We’ve already seen games like Black Desert Online put their gambling into the game itself and then sell you ways to cope with bad gambling outcomes. Businesses who want to be predatory will be so regardless.

The question I ask is the current situation better or worse than the future one? Right now I can choose whether or not I want to buy loot boxes usually with minimal impact on game play. However what happens if more games adopt a Black Desert like model? More over what’s the response to that, knowing that all these anti-lockbox arguments can be applied to games?

People just don’t think this whole thing through. It’s an emotional reaction of “lock boxes bad!” and they don’t care what the solution is even if it won’t fix the problem.

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Bruno Brito

However what happens if more games adopt a Black Desert like model?

You complain harder. You don’t stop fighting because the situation got worse, man. That’s not how protesting works.

People just don’t think this whole thing through. It’s an emotional reaction of “lock boxes bad!” and they don’t care what the solution is even if it won’t fix the problem.

This is a blanket statement for a situation that you really don’t know if it’s true or not. Yes, it may be in the minority, but i’m sure there ARE people out there thinking on alternatives.

Are you really so used to complacency that you forgot what actively wanting to improve things entails? It’s never easy nor quick.

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Arktouros

@Bruno if complaining did anything Loot Boxes would have been completely removed forever ago. They are universally hated by virtually everyone. The only time we’ve seen complaining actually work is when it reaches the scale of Battlefront that makes national news and even then a few years later now and they continue to bring in billions in revenue across gaming.

While I’ve seen an extremely few (as in countable on fingers) nuanced opinions regarding lockboxes and what their removal means. Almost always without fail they’re usually shouted down as defending lock boxes when in most cases, such as my own, it’s more like trying to fully think through the issue at hand. When I’m exposed to good argument I’ll rethink my position but so far the vast majority of it is “lockboxes gambling, bad, everyone knows it!”

If I was used to complacency I wouldn’t bother responding because so far “the house always wins” (bit of gambling humor). I actually do take quite a bit of time to read people’s arguments and a lot if it can simply boil down they want to go back to a time where companies didn’t use predatory business models to wring us of every dollar they can get their hands on. However simply put that’s a naive stance that isn’t going to go anywhere and worse in staying naive people might even make the situation worse. You kill loot boxes, it’s going to be something else. What is that something else? You can conceive that it might be better, but what I’m presenting is it’s probably going to be worse.

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Bruno Brito

You can conceive that it might be better, but what I’m presenting is it’s probably going to be worse.

And? Again, i get your entire reasoning, that doesn’t mean you stop. It’s not complicated.

Sometimes you get too wrapped into long essays about problems that require simple, yet effective solutions. Yeah, complaining doesn’t solve the problem completely, but it’s the power we as consumers have.

And being scared of the alternative is not reason to be silent. You shouldn’t put up with exploration just because it could be worse. You keep up until it’s BETTER.

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Jaymes Buckman

The difference would still be payment. Payment attached to different mechanics in an RPG is still payment. When you’re rolling the dice in a tabletop D&D session but not being charged for it, it’s fine. The gambling governors aren’t going to get at you. I don’t know exactly what Black Desert did, but it seems as though monetization was the big problem. No one’s legitimately mad at Blizzard because their hundredth Lich kill didn’t give them a flying horse.

So yeah. Payment will always be the difference between gambling and more benign forms of RNG or whatever RPG mechanic you care to name.

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Arktouros

Black Desert’s model is you want to enhance from +17 to +18, there’s a chance it will succeed or fail. If it fails you lose 10 durability and the item slides back to +16 (meaning you have to try at +17 all over again). They sell items that increase the amount of durability repaired as well as costumes you can melt for stones that prevent you from going back.

In essence all the “gambling” is in the game, while the cash shop sells you ways to cope with the bad results of gambling (repair more, prevent going backwards). It bypasses the “payment” portion because payment isn’t part of the process except after the gamble.

This is where we circle back to the fact that all these arguments that people are using against lock boxes are perfectly valid criticisms of most RPG game design. Games like POE are basically one giant RNG loot simulator. As you say you can run your Lich raid and never get your flying horse. It’s all RNG and so criticism of RNG based mechanics, such as loot boxes, transfers over towards game design very neatly. This is doubly true when games like Black Desert who’ve put the RNG into the base game. So what’s the answer then? You go after RNG mechanics in games? Now all of a sudden that WOW scenario where you haven’t gotten your flying horse runs afoul of the same criticism.

So again it’s about payment for now, but since making loot boxes isn’t going to realistically stop companies from being predatory, what about the future?

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Jaymes Buckman

It’s still about payment. If loot boxes were only tied to gold points that couldn’t be bought, there wouldn’t be this issue. Your example doesn’t bypass payment. It just puts a tiny bit of extra space in front of the payment. Monetary transactions are still taking place.

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Arktouros

Do you know why loot boxes aren’t gambling in most countries? Because there’s very strict definitions of what gambling is. Gambling in most countries is wagering something of value for something of value. Most companies argue the things you get out of said loot boxes have no value because they can’t be exchanged for anything of value (IE: your loot box sparklepony can’t be transferred or sold).

So here you are arguing that “it’s all about payment” when in fact the details, such as where that payment occurs, have an incredible impact on what falls under a law. Case in point if countries like the UK make loot boxes fall under gambling, it would because they broaden the definition of value beyond something you can cash out on (IE: The Belgium solution). However that broadened definition of gambling doesn’t in any way address the Black Desert scenario where you use in game items to gamble improvements to which you succeed/fail and then buy additional cash shop items to recover from said failure.

Broadly saying any payment all in the process makes it all about payment is simply being obtuse on how actual laws and regulations work. We literally saw this when Netherlands specifically banned only loot boxes where their contents could be resold and Valve let them continue to buy loot boxes but not sell the skins.

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Jaymes Buckman

But it’s never gambling in the law’s eyes when there’s no payment, which is why the horse thing is fine. Not everything’s going to come under gambling laws, which does mean that some predatory practices could continue, but that’s still an issue. I apologize if my phrasing led you to believe I was including all issues in the legal category of gambling.

I think I was just saying these things only become really problematic when money’s involved.

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KoboldWhite

Do you know why loot boxes aren’t gambling in most countries? Because there’s very strict definitions of what gambling is.

Incorrect. It’s because gambling laws have not moved with the times and haven’t been updated for decades. It happens all the time where lawmakers can’t keep up with some of the more rapidly advancing industries.

You know what just falling back to the ‘but our ancient law says!’ argument is? That’s religion.

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Sorata

What KoboldWhite said.
Makeing good laws takes time. And even more time sadly, if it effects multinational cooperations.

And Arktouros:
As long it costs real money, you buy something with real(in this case real refers to materialistic) value. Otherwise you would get it gifted, period. It costs you real cash, so it got the value of the real cash. Simply logical. You can’t further sell lots of supplied services either, but they are still real goods in the real world. It is just the same with digital goods!