Developer Journal Task: Ethics in Computer Games

Gambling in Games

There is a general concern about gambling within most modern video-games nowadays, typically found in many multiplayer-focused games there is a known feature called “Loot Boxes”. These are consumable items which may contain different cosmetics or items the player can use in-game.

“A loot box is a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection of further virtual items, or loot.”

Wikipedia, 2020

However, the main issue resides in that many of these consumable items are purchasable with real currency and are also entirely focused on the player paying for the chance of getting anything of value – most of which is unlikely due to the huge selection of items being completely randomized.

There has also been many legal concerns surrounding this topic, particularly in the US the legal definition of gambling is as follows:

“A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”, 2020

By definition, loot boxes within games that can be redeemed with currency to receive a random selection of items could very well be considered as a form of gambling in of itself.

Although, you could argue that if the loot boxes can be purchased through in-game currency instead then it is not exactly tied to real money (It may be possible to earn these entirely throughout gameplay as well).

Despite this though, you can still purchase these loot boxes through real money. Even if there is an alternative way to achieve these items without paying, it may be much more grindier and slower by intention to further incentivise the player to start spending real cash.

Personally, I feel that loot boxes shouldn’t be allowed within games as the system behind it has the same psychological impact as gambling. They are an intentional way to encourage players towards spending more on the game by feeding into bad habits associated with gambling.

“Whether or not we agree that loot boxes are gambling, the psychological mechanism behind both is nonetheless the same although the outcome is not: they are a form of intermittent rewards with a variable ratio reinforcement schedule (aka variable rewards).”

Ceila Hodent, 2019

To further prove my point that these loot boxes can have a negative effect on gamers, I’ve provided a study (See Figure 1) that shows the number of children with gambling problems and how it has heavily increased within the UK during 2018, in particular the prevalence of gambling amongst children has risen from 0.9% in 2017 towards 1.7%.

Figure 1 (

This certainly does raise some issues on the ethicality of loot boxes in games, as despite whether or not you pay real money for them they are still made to be addictive in mind. Many games geared towards the age groups of children and teenagers, specifically the more popular games nowadays being Overwatch or Fortnite which contain such features.


Celia Hodent. 2019. Ethics In The Videogame Industry: A Mythbusting And Scientific Approach – Celia Hodent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2020]. 2020. Loot Box. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2020].

US Legal, I., 2020. Gambling Law And Legal Definition | Uslegal, Inc.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2020].

The Conversation. 2018. Gambling: ‘Loot Boxes’ In Video Games Could Be Conditioning Children. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2020].

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