Are loot boxes bad for you?

A recently published study has suggested that loot boxes could pose a risk to gamers. The report that was released by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee stated that collecting loot boxes is comparable to online gambling, and as a result, is capable of leading to addictive behaviour.

The study analysed the behaviour of over 7,400 gamers and it found that those who were afflicted with the symptoms of problem gambling were more likely to spend money on loot boxes. This is because these loot boxes are seen as being capable of provoking a similar level of excitement as that of gambling, and this ‘compulsion loop’ has the potential to turn casual gamers into full-time gamblers.


© Blizzard Entertainment

It’s not just in Australia where institutions are clamping down on loot boxes, as governments in countries like the UK, France, the Netherlands and Spain have also stepped up in their efforts to monitor how micro-transactions could lead to problem gambling.

Whilst loot boxes were once seen as a perfectly safe way for gamers to win or buy in-game items such as weapons, armour or even just customise a character’s appearance, it seems that they have become a way for individuals to make money.

This is because there has been the noticeable rise in third-party sites who now allow gamers to trade their in-game items for cash. As a result, more gamers are now thought to ‘gamble’ on the contents of loot chests to see whether they could be used to trade with the many sites who are being seen as blurring the line between gaming and gambling.

In August, Belgian regulators decided to tackle the problem head on by ruling that loot boxes were a form of gambling. This caused the game developers, Blizzard Entertainment, to pull the sale of loot boxes for the Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm titles in Belgium.

Such a move sparked shockwaves around the gaming world, as Blizzard Entertainment had managed to earn huge revenues from the inclusion of loot boxes as a core part of the Overwatch title. The use of such reward systems has now become commonplace in many gaming titles that range from iconic esports like Counter Strike Global Offensive and League of Legends, to games like FIFA 17 and Star Wars Battlefront II.

Anybody who has played the FIFA title will know how these kinds of micro-transactions have become an essential part of the FIFA Ultimate Team feature. And the game’s developers, Electronic Arts, have come out in defence of loot boxes by stating that their company doesn’t actually offer gamers a direct way to cash in on these in-game items.

But with many YouTube channels now being dedicated to the sale and exchange of loot boxes, it seems that there are many third-party sites who have jumped in to take advantage of this new gaming phenomenon. Whether loot boxes can be equated to gambling is still up for debate, but it’s clear that the days of loot boxes could soon be numbered.