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What happens to gamers when video game features approximate gambling?

‘Loot Boxes’ (Photo: provided)

Dr Aaron Drummond from Massey University will lead an international team investigating the potential psychological and financial risks that gambling-related features have on video gamers.

Published 8 November 2018

Video games are big business, both within New Zealand and worldwide. In fact, video game development is New Zealand’s fastest growing technology export sector. However, politicians, gamers, and parents worldwide have expressed serious concerns about the recent emergence of gambling-related design features in video games, particularly those available to children. Traditionally video gamers were rewarded for their skills in mastering the game, but many video games are starting to feature ‘Loot Boxes’: randomly dropped rewards containing desirable items that players can use to affect the game. Some ‘Loot Boxes’ can also be bought and sold with real world money. It is thought this type of reward may lead to the rapid acquisition of new behaviours and produce habits that are seen in conventional gambling. To date, there has been almost no research exploring the potential psychological and financial risks that these gambling-related features pose.

 

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Dr Aaron Drummond (Photo: Massey University)

In a new Marsden Fund Fast-Start project, Dr Aaron Drummond from Massey University, along with Dr James Sauer (University of Tasmania) and Professor Christopher Ferguson (Stetson University) will examine the psychological impact that in-game gambling-related features have on video game players. The researchers will combine online surveys of gamers with experimental psychology studies to examine how in-game random reward systems affect player behaviour. The results will help identify the extent of excessive gameplay behaviour and the psychological and financial harm associated with these gambling-related mechanisms.

New Zealand has more video game developers per capita than any country in the world. This research is both critical and timely, as the games industry will figure prominently our economic future and social lives. Dr Drummond’s team’s findings will contribute to informed policy debate in New Zealand and internationally, and help to develop interventions that limit the negative impact of gambling features in video games.