City Research Online

Gaming the system: suboptimal compliance with loot box probability disclosure regulations in China

Xiao, L. Y. ORCID: 0000-0003-0709-0777, Henderson, L. L., Yang, Y. & Newall, P. W. S. (2021). Gaming the system: suboptimal compliance with loot box probability disclosure regulations in China. Behavioural Public Policy, 8(3), pp. 590-616. doi: 10.1017/bpp.2021.23


Loot boxes provide randomized rewards in video games; their purchase is linked to disordered gambling and they are present in approximately half of UK video games. The relative novelty of loot boxes means that regulators and policymakers in various jurisdictions are still deciding how to regulate them. The People's Republic of China (PRC) is the first, and presently only, jurisdiction to legally require companies to disclose the probabilities of obtaining randomized loot box rewards – an approach that is also favored by the industry as self-regulation. This study is the first to assess paid loot box prevalence in the PRC and companies’ discretionary interpretations of probability disclosure regulations. Loot boxes were found in 91 of the 100 highest-grossing PRC iPhone games. Of games deemed suitable for children aged 12+, 90.5% contained loot boxes. Probability disclosures could not be found for 4.4% of games containing loot boxes. Disclosures were implemented through various methods both in-game and on the games’ official websites; however, consistent with the concept of ‘sludge,’ only 5.5% used the most prominent format of automatically displaying the probabilities on the in-game loot box purchase page. Loot box probability disclosures should be uniform and visually prominent to best help inform consumers.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: loot boxes; gambling; video gaming regulations; consumer protection law; sludge; ethical game design
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
K Law
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: The City Law School > Professional Programmes
SWORD Depositor:
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