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New Study Reveals What We Always Suspected About Loot Boxes

Who doesn't love loot boxes? Spending money on totally random items with no earthly idea what you're getting — that's essentially how real life works, right? You go the car dealership, you hand them some cash, and they turn a giant spinner full of keys before plucking out a set and handing them over. Actually, no — that's not how it works at all. That sounds like the way lottery numbers are determined, and the lottery is gambling. According to a new study, loot boxes might be gambling, too. Surprise, surprise.

A new report from the organization GambleAware found almost undeniable ties between "loot box purchasing and problem gambling." Some of the more detailed findings may not be all that surprising. GamblingAware discovered that, out of 7,767 gamers who bought loot boxes, roughly 5 percent of them made up about half of the loot box revenue. These are the people the industry might call "whales." The study also determined that the amount of money someone made had very little to do with what they spent on loot boxes. Instead, it was "at-risk individuals" — those described as "people with gambling problems or problematic patterns of video gaming" — who were far more likely to drop money on these randomized items.

In essence, loot boxes appear to be delivering the same dopamine hit as gambling for some players. If these gamers would get a rush from pulling the lever on a slot machine or betting on a horse race, they might gain that same satisfaction from opening a loot box, as well. It's a fairly serious charge, but it would help explain why loot boxes took off the way they did, and why some people do indeed feel addicted to them.

So how can the issue of loot boxes be addressed, according to GambleAware? The group recommends that all affected games come with "clear definitions" of what loot boxes are and how they're used. On top of that, the organization feels games with loot boxes should be labeled as such on the box, and that game rating systems should take loot boxes into consideration. Finally, GambleAware advocates for the "full disclosure" of loot box odds in games, believes spending limits should be in place, and would like to see items sold in real-world currencies. If you're someone who has a hard time drawing a line between V-Bucks and dollars, that last change is one you might really appreciate.

At the moment, it remains to be seen if any game developers or publishers will take GambleAware's recommendations into account. Though some companies have pledged to get better on this front — or have been outright forced to — you can likely understand why a few might be hesitant to make less money. We'll keep an eye on this story and let you know if anything changes.