Are Loot Boxes Gambling? Random Reward Mechanisms in Video Games

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In this paper we investigate the phenomenon colloquially known as “loot boxes”. Loot boxes became a hot topic towards the end of 2017 when several legislative bodies proposed that they were essentially gambling mechanisms and should therefore be legislated as such. We argue that the term “loot box” and the
phenomena it covers are not sufficiently precise for academic use, and instead introduce the notion of “random reward mechanisms” (RRMs). We offer a categorization of RRMs, which distinguishes between RRMs that are either “isolated” from real-world economies or “embedded” in them. This distinction will be useful in discussions about loot boxes in general, but specifically when it
comes to the question of whether or not they represent instances of gambling. We argue that all classes of RRMs have gambling-like features, and may be problematic in different ways, but that only one class can be considered to be genuine gambling.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalTransactions of the Digital Games Research Association
Pages (from-to)171-207
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


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