Connecting Video Game ‘Loot Boxes’ to Gambling: UBC Research Uncovers Key Links

The video gaming world is no stranger to the world of sports, as players can immerse themselves in virtual soccer matches in popular games like Electronic Arts’ FIFA franchise. However, a new study by B.C. researcher Luke Clark is raising concerns about the rise of “loot boxes,” which he claims could be creating a new generation of gamblers. Loot boxes, mystery boxes that pay out a randomized prize when opened, are present in a wide range of modern games and often require payment to access them. The prizes can be either valuable in-game items or characters or low-value or duplicate items.

Clark, director of UBC’s Centre of Gambling Research, presented his findings on the effects of loot boxes at the B.C. Lottery Corporation’s New Horizons in Responsible Gambling conference, revealing that correlations had been identified between higher spending on loot boxes and higher symptoms of problem gambling, prompting researchers to seek a deeper understanding of the underlying cause and effect relationship.

Clark and his team surveyed over 400 regular gamers between the ages of 18 and 24 who were not involved in gambling, following up with them six months later to see if any had started gambling. Their results showed a clear “migration effect” between the amount spent on loot boxes and the initiation of gambling over that follow-up period, a concern that could have implications for the age restrictions around that feature. Gambling is an age-restricted activity, and that’s what Clark has emphasized in his presentation.

Austrian lawmakers have already ruled that the loot boxes in the FIFA game are equivalent to gambling, and in Canada, a B.C. law firm has filed multiple class action lawsuits against several video game companies, alleging that loot boxes are unlicensed, illegal gaming systems in violation of the Canadian Criminal Code. The study shows the need for better public education on the potential for addiction and problem gambling, especially among the young male demographic, and parents should also keep a close eye on their kids’ online activities.


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