Lootboxes: the addiction problem that video games have created in adolescents

Lootboxes are items within a video game that can be purchased with real-world money, but contain random items of uncertain value. Most games, on mobile phones, consoles and computers, contain these “surprise boxes” that share several similarities with games of chance: Both when you bet and when you pay to open a box, you give something of real value, in the hope of receiving something of greater value.

After payment, the box is opened and its contents are revealed, one that can be an ordinary item or a rare and valuable one. In fact, reward boxes share so many formal similarities with games of chance that have been regulated as a form of gambling in several countries. For example, in Belgium some have been banned as an illegal form of unregulated gambling. In China they are regulated by national lottery laws that require video game companies to disclose the odds of receiving specific rewards and details of an anonymous subset of all box openings.

It is a very lucrative business on a global level: an analysis by Juniper Research indicates that in 2023 it generated 15 billion euros and that next year it will reach 20 billion. One game alone, Counter Strike, generated 1 billion revenue from Loot Boxes in one year. The problem is that this practice mainly affects players between 13 and 18 years old and there are more and more studies that demonstrate the consequences linked to problem gambling and addiction.

A study from Loughborough University speaks of emotional and financial damage in adolescents, another, from the Family Institute of Australia, points to long-term damage. The University of Ontario has its own, the University of Newcastle also has one, as does the University of Plymouth or the Pompeu Fabra… And they all highlight the same three factors: the emotional and financial problems, addiction symptoms and lack of regulation.

In this last section, in June 2022 there was talk of a law to regulate loot boxes, but it was not passed and now, from the Ministry of Social Rights, Consumption and Agenda 2030, work is being done on a more precise proposal. The biggest obstacle the law faces is the regulation of both ends. On the one hand, users would have to identify themselves as of legal age to access these types of rewards, if they are ultimately considered gambling. And we already know how complex this type of mechanism is taking into account the ease of access of minors to pornography.

And on the other hand, video game companies do not reveal any type of mechanism or statistics that indicates What is the probability of receiving a certain prize?just as happens in the lottery. While all this is happening, the aforementioned studies on harm to minors have been published since 2000, almost five years, warning of a problem that in most countries is taking too long to regulate. And whose consequences we are barely seeing.