Adolescents and loot boxes: links with problem gambling and motivations for purchase

R Soc Open Sci. 2019 Jun 19;6(6):190049. doi: 10.1098/rsos.190049. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Loot boxes are items in video games that can be paid for with real-world money but contain randomized contents. Many games that feature loot boxes are played by adolescents. Similarities between loot boxes and gambling have led to concern that they are linked to the development of problem gambling in adolescents. Previous research has shown links between loot boxes and problem gambling in adult populations. However, thus far, there is no empirical evidence of either the size or existence of a link between loot box spending and problem gambling in adolescents. A large-scale survey of 16- to 18-year-olds (n = 1155) found evidence for such a link (η 2 = 0.120). The link between loot box spending and problem gambling among these older adolescents was of moderate to large magnitude. It was stronger than relationships previously observed in adults. Qualitative analysis of text data showed that gamers bought loot boxes for a variety of reasons. Several of these motivations were similar to common reasons for engaging in gambling. Overall, these results suggest that loot boxes either cause problem gambling among older adolescents, allow game companies to profit from adolescents with gambling problems for massive monetary rewards, or both of the above. Possible strategies for regulation and restriction are given.

Keywords: adolescents; gambling; loot boxes; media effects; problem gambling; video game effects.