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Which Implementations of Loot Boxes Constitute Gambling? A UK Legal Perspective on the Potential Harms of Random Reward Mechanisms

Xiao, L. Y. (2020). Which Implementations of Loot Boxes Constitute Gambling? A UK Legal Perspective on the Potential Harms of Random Reward Mechanisms. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, doi: 10.1007/s11469-020-00372-3


Loot boxes are virtual items in video games that offer the player randomised in-game rewards of uncertain in-game and real-world value. Paid loot boxes represent a lucrative and prevalent contemporary monetisation method that encourages repeat purchase through randomisation. The psychology literature has consistently reported a relationship between loot boxes and problem gambling. However, various implementations of loot boxes have not been sufficiently differentiated and separately examined. The literature and gambling regulators have generally argued that only loot boxes that cost real-world money to buy, and offer rewards that can be transferred to other players and are consequently worth real-world money, constitute ‘gambling.’ This paper identifies the potential harms of two other types of loot box: one does not cost real-world money to buy and the other does not offer rewards that are worth real-world money and argues that both may constitute ‘gambling’ under UK law. This paper hypothesises that even loot boxes that neither cost real-world money to buy nor offer rewards that are worth real-world money may be potentially harmful as they may normalise gambling behaviours. This paper highlights that, when the game’s design and economy are exploited by players, a particular implementation of loot boxes may involve real-world money, potentially contrary to the game company’s intentions, and thereby effectively constitute ‘gambling.’ This paper recommends that future empirical research separately examine the potential harms of each type of loot box.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Gaming law, Video game regulation, Loot boxes, Microtransactions, Gambling, Consumer protection
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
K Law > KD England and Wales
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: The City Law School > Professional Programmes
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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