Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing concerns from a form of gambling promoted in video games known as loot boxes. Recent debate has focused on whether or not this video game mechanic technically meets the definition of gambling. Some jurisdictions have out right banned them as they meet their definition of gambling completely, and others have ordered more study and review as they may not technical meet their definition of gambling, but they certainly employ the same psychological tricks to suck in young gamers to spend hundreds of dollars. Recently the FTC added state and federal legislators in their concerns over loot boxes and gambling issues, specifically how it they could be a gateway to problem gambling. Forbes reports:
Video games can be a gateway to problem gambling, the Federal Trade Commission was warned Wednesday. The danger comes from a feature that has become embedded in a majority of the most popular video games in recent years: loot boxes, according to experts who spoke in an all-day seminar held by the agency.
A loot box is a virtual box a player can buy in a game with real or pretend money with the potential for getting virtual weapons and other aids to help the chances of winning the game or the ability to customize characters. The payments are made through “microtransactions.” The name can hide the true financial hit on a child or other video game player because while a single loot box can cost 99 cents, repeated purchases or buying a bundles or bundles can go into thousands of dollars over time. For some players the lure of loot boxes is a pathway to problem gambling with young men and boys particularly at risk, cautioned National Association On Problem Gambling Executive Director Keith Whyte.
Some, especially those video game publishers like EA, who make a significant amount of their profits from gambling-esque loot boxes, tend to trivialize any link to gambling and claim their methods are completely ethical. Most disagree and experts at the panel claim the link shouldn’t be trivialized and the issues are far more serious that people might think. A major online video gaming source, PC Gamer explains what researches claim:
Speaking at a panel during the FTC’s recent workshop on videogame loot boxes, York St. John University research Dr. David Zendle stated unequivocally that loot boxes are connected to problem gambling. As reported by GamesIndustry, Zendle acknowledged that the causal relationship between the two isn’t clear, but said that the connection “is a clear cause for concern” that should not be trivialized.
“Spending money on loot boxes is linked to problem gambling. The more money people spend on loot boxes, the more severe their problem gambling is. This isn’t just my research. This is an effect that has been replicated numerous times across the world by multiple independent labs,” Zendle said. “This is something the games industry does not engage with.”
“This is so important. It’s not something we should trivialize or laugh at or compare to baseball cards. This is life or death.”
Another common deflection is that its not loot boxes that cause problem gambling, its problem gamblers over spending on loot boxes. The researchers address this issue in a very pragmatic way, essentially concluding that it’s completely irrelevant. PC Gamer continues:
The question of whether loot boxes are a gateway into other forms of problem gambling, or if people who have gambling problems to start with are naturally drawn to loot boxes, remains unanswered, and it could work both ways. But in Zendle’s opinion, it doesn’t really matter in any practical sense.
“In either case, it’s a clear cause for concern and not something to be trivialized. In one case, you have a mechanism in games that many children play that is literally causing a state of affairs that is enormously destructive. And if loot boxes do cause problem gambling, we’re looking at an epidemic of problem gambling the scale of which the world has never seen,” he said.
“And if that’s not true—and I’m totally open to that not being true—then you’ve got a system in which game companies are differentially profiting from the most vulnerable of their consumers. Problem gamblers already have enormous issues in their lives. They don’t need to have their money taken away from them through this as well.”
Zendle has authored multiple reports on loot boxes and gambling, and is unambiguous in his findings. In [his] 2018 article “Video game loot boxes are linked to problem gambling: Results of a large-scale survey,” for instance, he concluded, “This research provides empirical evidence of a relationship between loot box use and problem gambling. The relationship seen here was neither small, nor trivial. It was stronger than previously observed relationships between problem gambling and factors like alcohol abuse, drug use, and depression.”
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