Loot boxes, microtransactions, and problematic play
Loot boxes, or reward devices inserted into games to keep players engaged, are not new. However, their increasing prevalence in digital games and the emergence of business models seeking to maximise their income potential have generated concern that they may constitute a form of gambling with potential harms for game players. Currently however, loot boxes sit outside UK regulation and there is a dearth of evidence-based understandings about them.
To fill the gap, the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched a call for evidence in 2020. InGAME researchers including Prof Shiona Chillas won the commission to conduct a 10-week Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA). The team analysed more than 280 research publications and found evidence that loot boxes used by the video games industry do indeed have correlations with problem gambling, while also establishing that research in this area is in its infancy. The completed report recommends further work should be undertaken to understand the positive and negative impacts the sector has on its customers, before legislation is introduced. The report also proposes a set of principles for ethical loot box design, based on the team’s findings.
Published by InGAME and DCMS in April 2021, Loot Boxes and Digital Gaming: A Rapid Evidence Assessment (Jayemanne, D., Chillas, S., Moir, J., Rocha, A., Fraser, S. & Wardle, H.) provides evidence to government, helps engage policymakers, informs policy debate, and sets an agenda for future research and data collection. To download the report, visit https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1091282/InGAME_Loot_Box_REA.pdf