'Easy trap to fall into': why video-game loot boxes need regulation

This money-making addition can ‘exploit and manipulate’ players. But the impact on children is the biggest concern 

“Loot boxes are like scratch-off cards: you open one out of curiosity, get a little prize, think ‘darn, maybe next time,’ and then it just turns into a habit,” says Brian. “I got a big prize with my first $20 and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll get something good again,’ and spent another $5 next week, and then $5 more. It’s a disturbingly easy trap to fall into.”

Brian (not his real name), a 25-year-old American Reddit user who responded to a Guardian call-out, is one of millions of players who buy “loot boxes”, lucky-dip boxes that cost real money and yield random virtual rewards. Loot boxes have attracted controversy and comparisons to gambling in recent months, prompting countries including Belgium and the Netherlands to determine that their inclusion in popular games such as Fifa, Overwatch and Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius contravenes local gambling legislation.

Now, politicians and gambling-awareness organisations in the UK are calling for regulation, too.

Once upon a time you would buy a video game for £40 or so, and there would be no option to spend more. Now, however, with a huge number of games on smartphones that are initially free to play, and spiralling development costs on big-budget games, the makers and publishers of video games have had to find other ways to make money.

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