Category Archives: Studies/Research

Researchers Want Lawmakers to Treat Loot Boxes as Gambling and Regulate them as Such

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issues with gambling-esque look boxes in video games. This mechanic is essentially a slot machine and encourages children to poor more and more money into the game as they chase the warranted prize from a mystery box. This troubling gambling type mechanic has drawn the ire of legislators and regulatory bodies from around the world. Most recently,  the UK started examining loot boxes and micro transactions and had choice words and spirited exchanges with EA, one of the most aggressive loot box pushing publishers and one of the faces of this controversy. These loot boxes really took hold when EA pushed the mechanic in the Disney owned Star Wars franchise video game they licensed known as Battlefield 2 prompting some to call the Star Wars game nothing more than a themed online casino that preys on children.

Since that time, academics and researchers have been examining the links in problem gambling and loot boxes and have broken down how psychologically manipulative these systems are, even when they fall short of some jurisdictions technical definition of gambling. Most recently, researches discussed how this can be a life of death situation among problem gamblers. Now, a formal recommendation is being made that loot boxes be treated as gambling and regulated as such. The Guardian explains:

Video game loot boxes should be regulated as gambling and children barred from purchasing them, a House of Commons committee has advised. The recommendation comes as part of the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee’s report on immersive and addictive technologies, published on Thursday after months of parliamentary hearings with technology and gaming companies.

While loot boxes involve an element of chance because players do not know what they will get, they are not covered by existing gambling legislation because the items “won” are not considered to have monetary value. But the report heard evidence that loot box winnings can be exchanged for money and that their use by game developers was likely to “facilitate profiting from problem gamblers”.

Researches point to extremely high cost to children that gaming companies are inflicting when they exploit children in this manner. Those cost are financial and otherwise and should prompt legislators to regulate them and ban children from being able to make such gambling type purchase. The Guardian continues:  


Damian Collins, the chair of the committee, said: “Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”

A survey by the Gambling Commission in 2018 found that 31% of children aged 11-16 had paid for loot boxes, while one gamer told MPs that he was spending up to £1,000 a year on the football game Fifa hoping to win better players for his team.

The report cited evidence from cognitive psychologists that such in-game features are “designed to exploit potent psychological mechanisms associated with […] gambling-like behaviours”.

The committee also argued that online games should be legally covered by the same enforceable age restrictions as physical sales, closing a loophole that publishers argued freed them of responsibility.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 

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EA Tries to label Gambling-esques Loot Boxes as ‘Surprise Mechanics’ During UK Parliamentary Investigation

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing studies and investigations into the latest predatory gaming mechanics known as loot boxes. These are digital boxes that can be purchase with real money in video games and they contain random loot that can be used in game. In some cases these are vary rare items that have value in game. Most of the time, however, they are essentially useless items and kids or other gamers are encouraged to buy another box to get the good prize. It’s effectively a slot machine, along with all the psychological bells and whistles designed to get the player to keep paying to open more boxes.

In some cases, these items have enough value that they can be cashed out or soldmaking them exactly like a slot machine. As a result, they have been investigated and studied vigorously over the past year or so and even when some conclude they aren’t outright gambling, almost all conclude they are predatory, addictive, aimed at exploiting children and some have concluded that they lead to problem gambling & gambling addiction.  

Most recently, the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media, and Sports Committee conducted an investigation and they heavily questioned EA, the company most famously known for its loot box controversies involving key games like Star Wars Battlefield II and FIFA. During the testimony, they attempted to rebrand loot boxes and tried to compare this highly sophisticated and psychologically trapping mechanic to surprise toys, like Kinder Eggs, that you can buy in the store. Screen Rate explains:

Kerry Hopkins, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, went on record during an oral evidence session with the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media, and Sport Committee as saying that the company doesn’t view its microtransactions as loot boxes, but rather as “surprise mechanics.”

It’s a frankly shocking and blatant disregard of much of the research that has gone into the problem of loot boxes, with Hopkins also likening EA’s loot boxes to “Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals.” The difference? The latter two haven’t been correlated with gambling addiction in research studies, whereas loot boxes have, even if many more studies need to be done to conclusively link the two. EA’s attempted rebranding of loot boxes in the face of anti-loot box stances in the Netherlands, Belgium, and now in the United States is a clear appeal to keep the practice in place in the face of growing hostility.

With EA, it can be hard to separate the fact from fiction, but in this instance, it’s not difficult at all: loot boxes are loot boxes, not “surprise mechanics.” That the publisher is even attempting to assert they’re anything but what they are is an insult to consumer intelligence everywhere, and shows a blatant disregard for ethical concerns, instead prioritizing money.

This level of false equivocation is beyond concerning. EA pushed back against the Belgian Gaming Commission when it concluded their FIFA loot box cards clearly constituted unregulated gambling. Ultimately, they did remove them from the game in that specific country, but they really don’t see a difference in their gambling mechanic and Hatchimals. Video Game YouTuber YongYea, in a rather spirited, yet extraordinarily well reasoned video, properly outlines why this a dangerous false equivocation:

The only similarity between loot boxes and Kinder Eggs is that both involve opening some kind of container to reveal a random reward. But video game loot boxes go layers deeper than that. First of all, unlike Kinder Eggs, video games usually charge an entry fee, normally $60 for the standard edition. With Kinder Eggs there is no entry fee. You buy one or a couple, you get whatever toy inside and that’s that.

Most of the rewards you get out of loot boxes will be completely useless, with a small chance of getting something truly coveted, and that is by design. [B]ecause loot boxes are digital in nature, its parameters can be controlled and adjusted to the developer’s and publisher’s whim at their convenience. We often see games that tweak the odds post-launch, that introduce new roadblocks, add new coveted items that are easier to get or new modes that are easier to overcome by paying, rather than playing.

Then there is also the fact that with Kinder Eggs, opening a container for the little toy inside [is] pretty much the whole game. There’s not much else to it than that. The entire purpose of Kinder Eggs is to get that toy and maybe collect them. In-game loot boxes, on the other hand, act as this sub system that holds a lot of influence over the game itself. Loot boxes often tend to be implemented in such a way that you pretty much have to buy them in order to access the best possible experience for the game you purchased or downloaded. They essentially act as slot machine tollbooths for the product you already bought. Games will often implement intentional issues and roadblocks so that you will have to pay to mitigate them through the purchase of these randomized rewards.

I should also point out that when you open a Kinder Egg, there are no flashy animations or sound effects that are strictly designed to release these chemicals in your brain that give you that addictive sense of anticipation. With loot boxes, on the other hand, every time you open one you’re presented with this spectacle that is not too dissimilar to what you’ll find in casinos, slot machines specifically. That’s because slot machines and loot boxes are designed with the same purpose in mind, to keep those who are psychologically susceptible to gambling addiction and addictive tendencies coming back so they can be milked dry. This is regardless of their mental or financial health. That’s not a priority for these casinos and companies like EA.

Casinos at least have some kind of system where they keep kids away and what have you. The gaming industry, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to [care] about kids whose minds are still developing, who are more susceptible to addiction than adults are. The gaming industry certainly doesn’t care about susceptible adults or implementing monetization schemes responsibly.

The gaming industry cannot even uphold something as simple as an age restriction. As per the ESRB, on their website you can see that any game with real-life gambling must be considered an adult’s only game. Of course, this classification will prevent that game from being sold on most major platforms. But because loot boxes make them so much money, they’re trying to pretend like loot boxes aren’t gambling. That’s how they get around this and now companies like EA are going as far claiming loot boxes aren’t even loot boxes, but rather surprise mechanics. No EA, Kinder Eggs and loot boxes don’t come anywhere close to being the same thing. That’s like saying getting shot with a BB gun is pretty much the same as getting shot with sniper riffle because both involve pulling a trigger that ejects a projectile. This is false equivocation at its finest and this is a classic move from EA and other major publishers.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 


New Studies Point to Connection between Loot Box Spending and Problem Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newest gambling mechanic that has taken over video games aimed at children. Loot Boxes are a gambling reward system where the player pays to acquire mystery boxes that when opened provide random in-game items. These items can be simply cosmetic items like a new outfit for a character like Luke Skywalker to wear in Battle Front II, the Star Wars Game based on the Disney property that EA game developed that brought this issue to the forefront, to actually in game weapons that make you more powerful and thus able to win more. Many have called this mechanic out as simple gambling directed and children and the amount of money people spend on loot boxes chasing a certain item is staggering. Many world leaders and government agencies have either banned their use or have called for studies to enact legislation to properly regulate them. Now two large studies have come forward that provides proof that this mechanic plays on the same psychological principles that turn people into problem gamblers as well. An online source reports: 

Many popular games allow people to pay a small fee to obtain a “loot box” containing random selections of virtual in-game items. New research has found that there is a significant relationship between problematic gambling behaviors and spending money on loot boxes.

The findings, which appear in the journal PLOS One, indicate that people who spend more money on loot boxes are also more likely to be unable to keep their gambling habits in check.

“Loot boxes are extremely widespread. A recent analysis we did showed that they may feature in as many as 63% of mobile games. They’re extremely profitable, too: They’re estimated to have perhaps generated as much as $30 billion in revenue in 2018,” said study author David Zendle of York St. John University.

The societal impact of such finding is troubling to say the least. Various game publishers have made some changes to their loot box systems so that you can’t “cash out” or sell your items for real money, thus avoiding the technical definition of gambling in some jurisdictions. Still, others see the entire mechanic as so psychologically manipulative, that regulation is absolutely necessary, especially when so many games are geared towards children. The article goes on to outline the impact:

The participants all reported regularly playing at least of one of ten popular games that feature loot boxes: Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: GO, FIFA 18, Rocket League, DOTA 2, Team Fortress 2, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.

“There is a link between loot box spending and problem gambling. However, we’re not sure if this means that loot boxes literally cause problem gambling, or if it means that people who are already problem gamblers spend significantly more money on loot boxes. In either case, though, it doesn’t look socially beneficial.”

Some researchers have compared loot boxes to a predatory form of psychological ‘entrapment’ where players spend an escalating amount of money because they believe they have invested too much to quit. But longitudinal research is needed to determine whether loot boxes are directly related to the development of gambling problems.

“Researchers have suggested that loot boxes might create a gateway to problem gambling. We still don’t know if this is true,” Zendle remarked. The study, “Loot boxes are again linked to problem gambling: Results of a replication study,
was authored by David Zendle and Paul Cairns. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


FTC and Others Investigating the Dangers of Loot Boxes in Video Games and their Gambling Impact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing happenings of loot boxes, a video game mechanic that most view as a form of gambling that prays on children. Various local and international agencies have taken the threat seriously and have started seriously looking into the dangers of loot boxes and their link to gambling. Most recently, 16 countries signed an agreement to study loot boxes as more and more evidence draws links between loot boxes and problem gambling. As an online source reports, the FTC is joining in those that have expressed serious concern with their own investigations:

Federal Trade Commission chairman Joe Simons announced Tuesday that the agency would be investigating the use of micro-transactions, commonly referred to as loot boxes, in video games. According to NBC, there has been growing concern around the use of these loot boxes, which some view as a form of gambling designed to be addictive that is marketed to children.

Earlier this year, Senator Maggie Hassan of New Jersey sent a letter to the Entertainment and Software Ratings Board (ESRB) president to request that she re-evaluate how the board rates games with loot boxes, according to the popular gaming news platform Polygon.

“The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions, often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance,” Hassan wrote in her letter.

Researchers looking into the issue have found signs of addictive behavior and problem gambling among gamers who spend money on loot boxes. One study published in the /Public Library of Science/ which surveyed 7,000 gamers found that “the gambling-like features of loot boxes are specifically responsible for the observed relationship between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes.” They therefore concluded that “there may be good reason to regulate loot boxes in games.”

Across the pond, similar investigations are happening in the UK as the criticisms of look boxes grow, particularly as some of the most popular video games in the industry are adopting these predatory gaming mechanics. The Guardian reports: 

A House of Commons committee has announced plans to investigate the growth of “immersive and addictive technologies”, to advise the government on how to create policy and regulation that can protect the public from the negative effects of digitisation and “gamification”.

It follows a growing campaign against deliberately addictive mechanics in technology and video games, particularly the crossover with gambling represented by “loot boxes” – randomised rewards sold in games for real money.

The links between gaming and gambling is one of the key points to be investigated by the committee, which will ask: “What are the effects of in-game spending, especially on children, and does it need stronger monitoring or regulation?”

Games such as Fifa, Overwatch and Call of Duty have been criticised for the practice, which has led to reports of primary school-age children spending almost £500 on Fifa players and getting into the habit of spending £15 a week on pseudo-gambling. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 


UPDATE: 16 Countries Sign Agreement to Fight Loot Box Gambling in Video Games as New Study Draws Link Between Loot Boxes & Problem Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on the ongoing fight to regulate the addictive and gambling-esque gameplay mechanic known as loot boxes. Video games offer boxes that can be purchased for real money and they randomly provide in-game items. These items often have real world value and have certainly been sold as such. Clear links between this and slot machine gambling have been drawn and many are realizing what’s at steak. The issue became a main-stream topic when the Disney’s popular Start Wars franchise was licensed and used by video game publisher EA to make Battlefront II. The loot boxes were a critical component to advancing in the game and it was practically essential from children playing the game to buy these loot boxes to get equipment to be able to compete in the game. The situation was so bad one legislator called the game and Star Wars Themed online casino. After several individual dealings with loot box regulation, including the first actual ban, we now see the first coalition attempting to regulate this new form of gambling to children. Variety explains: 

Fifteen gambling regulators from Europe, as well as Washington State Gambling Commission, signed an agreement to work together to address the “risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling,” according to Gambling Commission It also plans to tackle third-party websites that offer players the chance to gamble or sell in-game items.

Certain countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, have already taken measures including officially declaring loot boxes as gambling. Those countries even had players unable to open loot boxes in “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (CS:GO) due to some players selling rare skins and other in-game items on third-party websites, sometimes for large sums of actual money.

Another measure was taken by popular games selling platform Steam, as Valve removed the ability to trade items in “CS:GO” and “Dota 2” on its platform to comply with gambling regulations in June. However, this will mark the first international combined effort against the concerns of gaming and gambling— which could mean a more intense effort than what individual states have taken.

Neil McArthur, chief executive and signatory of the UK’s Gambling Commission explained the intent behind the effort. “We have joined forces to call on video games companies to address the clear public concern around the risks gambling and some video games can pose to children,” McArthur said. “We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.” McArthur further noted that children could be “gambling with money intended for computer game products” using sites that allow users to bet real currency on in-game items. “We want parents to be aware of the risks and to talk to their children about how to stay safe online,” McArthur said.

Such efforts are even more critically important as more and more research is revealing the true cost and risk to our children. It was already reported that the loot box industry is expected to reach $50 billion dollars, but new research is demonstrating exactly what kind of negative effects that can have on children, and given the psychological similarities between gambling and these gaming mechanics, its no surprise the finding point towards a gateway to problem gambling. An online gaming publication reports:

An Australian committee has released the findings of an investigation on loot boxes in video games started earlier this year, reporting that loot boxes and problem gambling are linked and that the monetization practice comes with “a serious risk […] to cause gambling-related harm.”

The debate about loot boxes and their connection to gambling has been raging for quite some time at this point, but the Australian government’s investigation and findings back a growing number of lawmaking bodies and regulatory committees working to impose or encourage regulation of the practice.

In the case of this investigation, and according to information on the study shared by Lexology, researchers looked at a sample size of roughly 7,500 individuals and found “important links between loot box spending and problem gambling.”

The report notes that players with severe gambling problems were more likely to spend large sums on loot boxes in video games, and that its findings suggest that loot boxes can act as a gateway to problem gambling and that the monetization practice itself gives game companies “an unregulated way of exploiting gambling disorders amongst their customers.”

“These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling,” reads a statement shared along with the findings, shortly after calling back to an earlier quote from the ESRB that likened loot boxes to baseball cards. “Spending large amounts of money on loot boxes was associated with problematic levels of spending on other forms of gambling. This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.” 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


UPDATE: Washington State joins Hawaii in pushing investigation and legislation around gambling-esque loot boxes in video games.

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing revelation that video game publishers are pushing what many have called predatory gambling mechanics into recent video games. These loot boxes that are purchased by a gamer dispense in-game items by chance. The players don’t know what items they are actually purchasing and thus they chase after the change of getting the good loot much like a gambler chases after the right combination in a slot machine. What’s worse, publisher EA used these gambling boxes as the primary way to advance through their latest Star Wars video game, Battlefront 2. Naturally, this not only caught the eye of the media, but Disney themselves had to step in. Then governmental agencies started investigating and expressing concern for such psychologically manipulative mechanisms in video games that are available to children. Chris Lee, a Hawaiian legislature pulled no punches when he categorized the game and loot boxes as simply an Star Wars themed online casino aimed at taking kids money. Apple called for companies to disclose the odds of obtaining various loot in any games sold in there app store, but the industry as a whole decided not to regulate loot boxes through the ESRB system. Given the lack of sell governance, yet another state has pushed forward to investigate the issue. The Rolling Stone reports:

As the debate surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions as a form of gambling targeted at children continues, a new bill proposed in Washington is looking to force the game industry to regulate these mechanics, The News Tribune reports.

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker introduced a bill this month asking state officials, as well as game developers, to determine once and for all if loot boxes and similar mechanics are specifically designed to prey on children.

“What the bill says is, ‘Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,’” Ranker told the outlet. “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”

Despite the controversies, the game industry seems to be fully-committed to loot boxes and microtransactions. In a recent industry survey, the Game Developer’s Conference found one in 10 developers plan to implement the mechanics in their next game.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


UPDATE: Gambling-esque Loot Boxes in Video Games Face Regulatory Measures & Studies from Governments like Hawaii and Private Companies like Apple, but are they Actually Harmful?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newly covered, gambling type video game items known as loot boxes. The boxes are purchasable in a video game and they provide random loot, or in game merchandise, much like a slot machine. This system of microtransactions came to light because EA pushed the envelope so far in their new Disney licensed Star Wars video game, that the only way to truly progress in the game or have the tools to win was to buy these loot boxes and gamble on the items you would get. The system is designed for the player to buy boxes, open them and chase after the best loot. Players pushed back, mainstream media picked up the issue, Disney had to get involve and make EA pull the gambling system from the game and legislators started looking into the issue. Hawaii legislators came out very strongly against the idea of exposing children to such psychologically manipulative, gambling type systems and called the game a Star Wars themed online casino. Its no surprise that a few weeks later and Hawaii legislators are now drafting legislation and working with other states and the industry itself to regulate the issue.   Gaming publication Kotaku reports:

A Hawaii in which games with microtransactions are illegal for minors to purchase is one that state legislator Chris Lee is now hoping to realize. He says that prohibiting the sale of games with loot boxes is a “no-brainer,” and along with a dozen other politicians, he says, he’s thinking of how to put legal controls around video game microtransactions. 

Over the course of a few months, Lee had been hearing from local teachers about kids who struggled with the temptation to spend beyond their means in game microtransactions. Lee cited one conversation about a kid who, he heard, had stolen their parents’ credit card to pay for their gaming habit. He says several families reached out about spending thousands of dollars on microtransactions.

“Gambling has been illegal especially for minors and young adults because they are psychologically vulnerable,” he told me, adding that kids “often don’t have the cognitive maturity to make appropriate decisions when exposed to these kinds of exploitative mechanisms.” 

“There’s no transparency at the outset of what they’re getting into,” he said. “That’s something I think is a real concern.” Now, Lee is working to prevent the sale of games containing loot boxes to gamers under 21 in Hawaii. He also wants games to disclose up-front whether they have “gambling-based mechanics” and to publicize the odds of winning various items in loot boxes.

Apple Inc. certainly agrees with Lee that the odds of winning various items need to be disclosed to gamers. Falling in line with what other foreign governments like China Korea, Apple is now requiring game companies to publicize the odds. Venture Beats explains:

Apple quietly updated its rules for developers yesterday with a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines, and it now requires that developers disclose the odds of getting cool loot in the loot boxes for free-to-play games.

Loot boxes have become a big monetization opportunity in free-to-play games, but they’re also controversial, as Electronic Arts’ discovered with tying loot crate purchases to unlocking desirable characters like Darth Vader in Star Wars: Battlefront II. Gamers revolted, and EA backed off. Government officials also started to step in to say that loot crates should be regulated, as they can be perceived as ripping off consumers or even as gambling.

Apple is clearly trying to get ahead of any regulatory problem by requiring that developers now disclose proper information.

But those in the gaming industry don’t believe loot boxes are gambling. Not only have individual companies gone on record to say they are perfectly fine, the ESRB, the self-regulated industry body who labels games by age range, came out and said they didn’t believe they were gambling and they certainly haven’t proposed any regulatory measures to help protect consumers against the predatory nature of microtransactions. Those fighting against loot boxes aren’t simply looking at antidotal evidence either. The UK’s Gambling Commission just released a report with rather shocking evidence of children as young as 11 being preyed upon and possibly lead into gambling addiction. Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioral Addiction at Nottingham Trent University explains:

Last week, the Gambling Commission’s annual report found that children as young as 11 years of age are “skin gambling” online – paying money for the chance to win in-game virtual items. But this, while alarming, is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s the terrifying phenomenon of “loot boxes” that are the most worrying and potentially dangerous aspect of e-gaming for children right now. “Loot boxes” are everywhere – they are otherwise known as crates, chests, cases, bundles, and card packs.

In FIFA Ultimate Team, for example, players can purchase gold, silver or bronze card packs, either using in-game currency or real money, in the hope of getting their hands on top talent to improve their teams. But there’s no guarantee of landing A-listers like Ronaldo or Messi – the cards won’t all be star players and will more likely be less valuable collectables.

The issue is that the buying of crates or loot boxes is a form of gambling because players, often children, are being asked to buy something of financial value that could end up being of lower financial value than the amount they paid. 

The good thing is parents are now hearing about things like “skin gambling” and “loot boxes” but children also need to be educated about these activities as much as drinking, drugs or the risks of underage sex. Parents need to get to grips with what is going on in their children’s worlds.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION