What Are Loot Boxes?

I’ve sparingly treated people with video game addiction for almost a decade, but until last year I did not know about loot boxes. When the World Health Organization (WHO) officially stated in June of 2018 that video game addiction was a mental health disorder that would be included in ICD-11, I took notice. Over the last 21 months, Andrew Walsh and I have researched the topic and opened up a program to treat people in NJ with this disorder (we have a book coming out in October of 2019 titled Video Game Addiction 101 that you can purchase on Amazon).

Loot boxes have become ubiquitous in video games. Imagine you are playing a sword and sorcery fantasy game (something like Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian or Game of Thrones). You would like to acquire a new sword that is valued at 1500 gold pieces in the game. You only have 567 old pieces. You can go and purchase five loot boxes for 100 gold pieces each. You don’t know what is in the loot boxes. You could get a terrible item, an average item, or a wonderful item. You might end up with a dagger that is only worth 50 gp (likely) or you could end up with the exact sword you are looking for (unlikely). The gold pieces you have in the game could be acquired either though (a) completing tasks in the game or (b) using a credit card to buy them (so using actual money to buy virtual money that is only good for the video game).

This is an 86 second video where kids explain loot boxes to their parents. This is a 22 minute video of a young child opening loot boxes and discussing them. He knows what is coming out of them by the sound and color before we can even see the object. Clearly he has opened up a great many loot boxes. Besides the initial concern about the actual money that is being spent on virtual items, there is a much greater problem: loot boxes are gambling. Worse, they are exposing millions of people to gambling at a young age. It is well known that the earlier someone uses nicotine, alcohol, or drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction to it. This also holds true for gambling. We believe that loot boxes are potentially priming two generations of young people for gambling problems.

Andrew and I are not screaming from the edge of the woods on this. Belgium banned loot boxes in 2018 and the British Parliament, which seemingly can agree on nothing right now, is discussing banning them in the entire UK. Loot boxes are a booming business that non-gamers have no idea about. In 2018, the gambling revenue from all of the Las Vegas casinos was a little over $6 billion. Loot boxes brought in over $30 billion dollars in 2018. It is because of this massive revenue generation that games like Call of Duty have recently added loot boxes.

Loot Boxes are not just in pc games or console games (like Playstation or Xbox), but can also be found in mobile games (which make up over 50% of the worldwide market for video games). If you have a loved one that plays video games (child or adult), ask them about loot boxes. Ask if they purchase any and if so, how are they coming up with the in-game money to buy them.