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Loot Boxes: Are Kids Gambling in Video Games?

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

Northridge, CA - In the digital age, video games provide an interactive form of media consumption. As the video game industry continues to grow, companies are finding new ways to monetize their platform and attract new customers. “Loot boxes” are a new trend that could be draining the wallets of parents, and lead to gambling addiction in children.

Gambling usually happens in casinos. However, the latest craze is gambling in video games. Companies have started monetizing their games with features called “loot boxes.” These are games of chance within video games that players spend real money for. In return, you get a random prize. The goal is to show off.

Popular games that feature loot boxes include Overwatch, FIFA 19, Star Wars Battlefront II, and many others. These games use the in-game purchases to improve profitability. However, since these features started becoming more common, many gamers have begun criticizing them. Gamers call it a “cash grab,” while others criticize it for its likeness to gambling. Some officials are even worried it can be a gateway to gambling addiction in kids.

“You’re spending money to essentially try to get a product of cosmetic value. It just makes your character look cooler,” said Alejandro Williams, an employee at Worlds Collide Gaming Arena. “ It’s eye candy you know. It could be a diamond or something, but you want it. And it’s right there in front of you, pretty colors? Ya, you would want to get that.”

Loot boxes function a lot like casinos. Companies tend to use bright lights and loud noises to give off a sense of accomplishment. Studies have found that loot boxes are psychologically similar to gambling. According to the Environment and Communications Reference Committee, the amount gamers spend, and the state of mind when purchasing loot boxes is very similar to traditional gambling. The study finds that loot box purchasers are chasing an “emotional high” much like gamblers. Because of this, the cost starts to add up.

“I’ve probably spent about $200 a month on just cosmetic skins and loot boxes. I think what makes it so addicting is the loot boxes are completely random, so if you don’t get a certain skin that you want, you just have to keep trying,” says Michael Espinoza, a gamer who’s purchased a lot of loot boxes.

Some companies won’t call loot box features gambling, however. Companies like Electronic Arts choose to use different names like “surprise mechanics.” This has prompted investigations by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and gambling regulators in Europe. The UK Gambling Commission has even mentioned that the number of problem gamblers between the ages of 11 and 16 has reached a record 55,000, with a further 70,000 at risk due to the rise of loot boxes.

By Demothy Tien with contributions from,, The Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee, and The Telegraph


Video, Demothy Tien


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