How loot boxes in children’s video games encourage play

While gambling is illegal in the US, kids can start gambling as young as 10, with 80% of teens reporting gambling in the past year. If your child plays video games, he may be gambling without realizing it. Do you know how to identify gaming behavior and what you can do if you suspect a problem?

Loot boxes in children’s video games encourage “game-like” behavior

Video games used to be one-time purchases. Games today act more like a service, with companies often providing them for free and relying on “loot boxes” and microtransactions like in-app purchases to create revenue streams. According to a Federal Trade Commission report, loot boxes have been a topic of concern both nationally and internationally due to concerns that they encourage gambling-like behavior or the use of tactics that can encourage addictive spending of the game. consumer, even in games aimed at young children.

Loot boxes are usually an in-game container that masks the contents, which are random. Players spend real money or in-game money to receive one of these random items, which can make the player more powerful, competitive, or attractive. The concept caught on in 2010 when it was introduced in popular games like Team Fortress 2 and then Overwatch and Call of Duty: WW2. In fact, some popular games, such as Star Wars Battlefront II, incorporated them to such an extent that it was accused of “pay to win”, which caused a significant backlash that led the publisher, Electronic Arts, to review the game. The formula is still common though, with popular franchises like Candy Crush, Diablo, Final Fantasy releasing games that rely heavily on microtransactions and loot boxes to succeed.

Loot boxes generate huge profits for the video game industry

Recent research suggests that the video game industry generated as much as $30 billion from loot boxes in 2018. Major game studios like Ubisoft and Take-Two Interactive rely on these tactics for the majority of their corporate revenue. However, the revenue from these studios can have a disproportionate impact on a small number of players: over 90% of this revenue is generated from a small number of players called “whales.” These “whales,” or players who spend disproportionate amounts on in-game purchases, may already be engaging in gambling-related behavior, even if they are underage.

Loot boxes simulate game behavior

According to addiction researchers, loot boxes create a dynamic similar to gambling behavior. In a recent survey of adolescents conducted by these researchers from Central Queensland University, they found that most top-selling video games had loot boxes, that almost all adolescents aged 12-17 or 18-24 had played a I play with loot boxes and that the average 12-17 year old spent an average of $50 per month on loot boxes. The average 18-24 year old spends an average of $72 per month on loot boxes. Importantly, this same research showed that loot box purchases significantly increased the odds of later gambling problems.

Analyzes of player motivations for purchasing loot boxes reflect common reasons for gambling: players are exchanging money or something of value in an attempt to influence a future event, the outcome of that future event is not known at the time of the transaction and chance at least in part determines the outcome. When games are designed to maximize spend as a perceived path to in-game victory, players may feel compelled to engage in gaming behaviors in order to progress.

Spending on loot boxes can lead to problems with the game

New research suggests that loot box purchases and similar gambling behaviors among children or adolescents may lead to problem gambling later in life. These activities seem fun and harmless, and potentially normalize risky behavior. Since many games aimed at children (such as games in the Pok√©mon franchise) contain these mechanics, parents should be aware of this potential concern and monitor spending on games, ideally seeking parental permission for any purchases. , talking with your children about how gambling works, and observing problem gambling behaviors such as changes in money, changes in behavior and irritability when not gambling, stealthiness, and changes in school performance or social activities. If you’re concerned your child may have a problem, there are many addiction resources online, including SAMHSA helplines, the National Council on Problem Gambling, and state helplines.

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