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Lootboxes: Advice to the Gambling Commission from ABSG

ABSG has given advice to the Gambling Commission in regards to lootboxes. This advice outlines what lootboxes are, concerns around them, and how to protect consumers.

Annex A: Links to Recent Research with abstract summaries on key conclusions

Examples of lootboxes being used by consumers and children

The following information provides some of the wider context and issues related to this topic area:

Clips from You Tube of consumers using different types of lootboxes:

Summary of recent research

Adolescents and lootboxes: links with problem gambling and motivations for purchase (opens in a new tab) Zendle et al, Royal Society Open Science, June 2019

A large-scale survey of 16- to 18-year-olds (n = 1155) found evidence for such a link (between lootbox use and problem gambling) (η2 = 0.120). The link between lootbox spending and problem gambling among these older adolescents was of moderate to large magnitude. It was stronger than relationships previously observed in adults: 'Video game lootboxes are linked to problem gambling: Results of a large-scale survey' (opens in a new tab), David Zendle and Paul Cairns, PLOS ONE 14(3), November 2018.

‘The prevalence of lootboxes in mobile and desktop games’ Zendle et al, Addiction 115(9), September 2020

  • A total of 58.0% of the top games on the Google Play store contained lootboxes, 59.0% of the top iPhone games contained lootboxes and 36.0% of the top games on the Steam store contained lootboxes; 93.1% of the Android games that featured lootboxes and 94.9% of the iPhone games that featured lootboxes were deemed suitable for children aged 12+. Age ratings were more conservative for desktop games. Only 38.8% of desktop games that featured lootboxes were available to children aged 12+.

Lootboxes in online games and their effect on consumers, in particular young consumers (opens in a new tab) Cerulli-Harms et al, Policy Department for Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policies, European Parliament, June 2020

  • “Lootboxes are not necessarily targeted at children. There are, however, games which are targeted at children that contain lootboxes and there are games that contain lootboxes which are targeted at adults and also played by children. The Swedish Consumer Agency (2019) has presented evidence that many parents consciously let children play games which are rated for older age groups.”

Lootboxes are again linked to problem gambling: Results of a replication study (opens in a new tab) David Zendle and Paul Cairns, PLOS ONE, March 2019

  • The results of this study provide further evidence of a potentially important relationship between problem gambling and lootbox spending. Overall, there was a significant link between participants’ scores on the Problem Gambling Severity Index and their lootbox spending (p<0.001, η2 = 0.051). Individuals who did not have gambling problems spent significantly less money on lootboxes than those who were problem gamblers, or at risk of problem gambling.

eSports, skins and lootboxes: Participants, practices and problematic behaviour associated with emergent forms of gambling (opens in a new tab) Joseph Macey and Juho Hamari, New Media and Society, 21 (1), January 2019

  • This study assesses participation rates and demographic characteristics of eSports spectators who gamble via an international online survey (N = 582). The sample highlighted the prevalence of young, often under-age, males in eSports-related gambling activities. Participation in gambling, and gambling-like activities, was found to be 67%, with rates of problematic and potentially problematic gambling in the sample being 50.34%.

The Relationship Between Video Gaming, Gambling, and Problematic Levels of Video Gaming and Gambling (opens in a new tab) James Sanders and Robert Williams, Journal of Gambling Studies, 35 (2), June 2019

  • Despite having similar profiles, overlap between problematic levels of gaming and gambling was modest, with only 10.5% of the 466 problem gamblers also being problem video gamers and 24.1% of the 203 problem video gamers also being problem gamblers. In general, the evidence would suggest that although the risk factors and manifestations of problem gaming and problem gambling are similar, involvement and/or over involvement in one is not a strong predictor of involvement and/or over involvement in the other.

The relationship of lootbox purchases to problem video gaming and problem gambling (opens in a new tab) Li et al, Addictive Behaviours, October 2019

  • Results from a series of path analyses revealed that lootbox purchasing was directly related to problem video gaming and problem gambling severity as well as indirectly through increased video gaming/online gambling engagement, which in turn is related to elevated psychological distress. The present findings provide insight into the role of lootbox purchasing in the transition from recreational engagement in video gaming and online gambling to problem video gaming and/or problem gambling.

Are Video Games a Gateway to Gambling? A Longitudinal Study Based on a Representative Norwegian Sample (opens in a new tab) Molde et al, Journal of Gambling Studies, 35 (2). June 2019

  • Using an autoregressive cross-lagged structural equation model, we found a positive relationship between scores on problematic gaming and later scores on problematic gambling, whereas we found no evidence of the reverse relationship. Hence, video gaming problems appear to be a gateway behaviour to problematic gambling behaviour. In future research, one should continue to monitor the possible reciprocal behavioural influences between gambling and video gaming.

Problem gamblers spend less money when lootboxes are removed from a game: a before and after study of Heroes of the Storm (opens in a new tab) David Zendle, October 2019

  • In general, when lootboxes were removed from Heroes of the Storm, problem gamblers appeared to spend significantly less money in-game in contrast to other groups. These results suggest that the presence of lootboxes in a game may lead to problem gamblers spending more money in-game. It therefore seems possible that links between lootbox spending and problem gambling are not due to a general lack of regulation in in-game spending amongst problem gamblers, but rather are to do with specific features of lootboxes themselves.

Lootbox engagement and problem gambling among adolescent gamers: Findings from a national survey (opens in a new tab) Kristiansen and Severin, Addictive behaviours, April 2020

  • There was a significant positive correlation between lootbox engagement and problem gambling severity when controlling for core demo-graphic factors.
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Annex B: Extract from ABSG advice (published July 2019)
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