A call for video games to be regulated to include warnings of simulated gambling similar to other content warnings such as for violence or language has been renewed after the release of new research.
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, found virtual items obtained via loot boxes in online video games had monetary value irrespective of if they could be cashed out, meaning they could plausibly be regulated under existing gambling legislation.
A loot box is a digital container of randomised rewards available in a number of online video games which was first introduced about 10 years ago.
Researchers analysed items bought and sold on video game marketplaces, which allow people to monetise virtual items, and found $1.45 billion in real currency sales.
University of Tasmania School of Psychological Sciences researcher and study co-author James Sauer said it had already been shown that some loot boxes shared important psychological characteristics with conventional forms of gambling.
"However, some argue that virtual items won from loot boxes have no value, and that loot boxes, therefore, do not fall within existing frameworks for regulating gambling activity," Dr Sauer said.
"This work refutes that argument.
"Some loot boxes do meet the 'value criterion' needed to meet legal definitions of gambling in many jurisdictions."
"It's not that all in-game rewards are bad, or that people are paying for rewards, but these particular reward mechanisms share a lot of psychological similarities with conventional forms of gambling."
Dr Sauer said gamers and the parents of young gamers needed to be aware of the fact some games contained gambling-like mechanisms.
"We don't know what the short or long-term consequences of engaging with loot boxes for gamers and whether it's going to lead to problematic behaviour, problematic spending or future gambling," he said.
"But in the meantime we want to allow consumers to make informed choices by encouraging the gaming industry to include content warnings, such as simulated gambling or purchasable randomised rewards, on video games with loot boxes."