Research Article: Loot boxes are again linked to problem gambling: Results of a replication study

Date Published: March 7, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): David Zendle, Paul Cairns, Simone Rodda.


Loot boxes are items in video games that contain randomised contents and can be purchased with real-world money. Similarities between loot boxes and forms of gambling have led to questions about their legal status, and whether they should be regulated as gambling. Previous research has suggested a link between the amount that gamers spend on loot boxes and their problem gambling: The more individuals spent on loot boxes, the more severe their problem gambling. However, the generalisability of prior work may be limited by both the self-selected nature of the sample under test, and the fact that participants were aware of the study’s aims. A large-scale survey of gamers (n = 1,172) was undertaken to determine if this link remained when these limitations of previous work were taken into account. These gamers did not self-select into a loot box study and were not aware of the study’s aims. This study found similar evidence for a link (η2 = 0.051) between the amount that gamers spent on loot boxes and the severity of their problem gambling. Previous research strongly suggested both the size and the direction of link between loot box use and problem gambling. This paper provides further support for this link. These results suggest either that loot boxes act as a gateway to problem gambling, or that individuals with gambling problems are drawn to spend more on loot boxes. In either case, we believe that these results suggest there is good reason to regulate loot boxes.

Partial Text

Loot boxes are a profitable mechanism in modern video games that shares significant psychological and structural similarities with gambling. There is concern that loot boxes may pose risks to gamers, and some territories have already regulated them as a form of gambling. Previous research has suggested the existence of an important link between loot box spending and problem gambling. However, the self-selected and unblinded nature of the sample used in this research limits its generalisability. In the research outlined below we replicate the existence of this link with a sample where individuals are not aware of the survey’s aims.

This research was approved by the Cross-School Research Ethics Committee for the Schools of Art, Design & Computer Science; and Performance & Media Production at York St. John University

Reported spending on loot boxes over the past month ranged from $0 to $2300. Means and 95% confidence intervals of loot box spending when split by problem gambling severity are presented below as Table 1.

This research provides further evidence of a potentially important link between problem gambling and the amount that individuals spend on loot boxes. It directly addresses the limitations of previous research, in which a similar link was seen in an unblinded and self-selected sample. This research replicates that relationship and suggests that it remains in existence even when a sample is unaware of the fact that research concerns loot boxes and gambling, and have not self-selected into a loot box-related study.




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