Regulators say loot boxes are gambling. Australian study agrees.

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It’s been a bad time for videogame loot boxes. Last week, Belgium began a criminal investigation into Electronic Arts’ refusal to halt the sale of FIFA 18’s Ultimate Team packs in that country. If the prosecutor in Brussels finds enough cause to move forward with a trial, EA will be forced to defend itself in court. It’s an escalation between gaming and government that the industry is keen to avoid.

This week, fifteen international regulatory agencies and the State of Washington Gambling Commission, co-signed a declaration to “address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling”. While the agreement is mostly focused on third-party sites linked to loot boxes, like the CSGO Lotto scandal, a key component of the declaration is a pointed warning to game publishers.

“We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.”

Meanwhile a study sponsored by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee found that people with gambling addictions spent more on videogame loot boxes, supporting the theory that these rewards trigger the same psychological responses as traditional gambling. The report concluded that these digital loot boxes differ from physical collectible card packs or “blind box” offers in that the immediacy and celebratory feedback of these transactions encourages problematic behavior.

“This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.”

Hitting that Overwatch loot box button is as good as pulling the lever on the old One-armed Bandit.

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