Video game loot boxes a psychological risk

11/8/18 3:42 PM

Loot boxes are becoming more prevalent in video games, and are readily available to children even though they approximate gambling.

An international coalition of gambling and gaming agencies recently called on the video game industry and tech platforms to help crack down on unlicensed third-party sites offering loot boxes, widely considered to be illegal gambling in video games.

Essentially a digital container of randomised rewards purchasable with real world money, those rewards can, at times, be worth a lot to players of the game. It is that 'variable-ratio schedule' reinforcement that drives the behaviour to purchase again in the same kind of reward structure as playing the pokies randomly rewards those who continue at the machine.

"We are increasingly concerned with the risks being posed by the blurring of lines between gambling and other forms of digital entertainment such as video gaming," a statement from the UK-based Gambling Commission said. "Concerns in this area have manifested themselves in controversies relating to skin betting, loot boxes, social casino gaming and the use of gambling themed content within video games available to children."

Closer to home Dr Aaron Drummond from Massey University will be studying these type of psychological rewards further, with his team examining the psychological difference between functional rewards (such as a new skin), and rewards that are able to be onsold for real world money.


Fortnite rage

The world’s most popular game right now, Fortnite, utilises loot boxes and other strategies developed by Epic Games UX Director Celia Hodent to appeal to human psychology.  Many of the enquiries to Family Zone's consumer support line relate to concerned parents who are struggling to get their children off the game, and looking for a tool to control access. 

Family Zone offers the ability for parents to set routines such as for study time, and also to limit access to websites and apps including Fortnite. 


Schools are increasingly bearing the brunt of sleep deprived students who have been up all night playing this highly addictive game. Psychological techniques like loot boxes make self-regulation of internet use more difficult, and children require age-appropriate boundaries and support.

Partner School Program and the School Community Platform 

Personal mobile devices are a challenge for schools. Students are easily able to bypass default school internet filtering by using a VPN app, or by using their own data plans. 

Our Partner School Program supports school communities to provide boundaries around appropriate internet use on mobile devices, both on and off the school network. The School Community Platform gives schools visibility and control over ALL mobile devices in school time. 


Schools define internet use policies in school time (school's duty of care), and parents have control outside of these times (parent's duty of care). 

Our School Relationship Team provides a cyber safety framework to help bring parents on board. If you would like more information on how this could work for your school community, contact us for a Demo.  




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