The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) has entered into a new academic partnership with the University of Portsmouth, focused around loot boxes.
Specifically, the partners aim to develop educational material focused on potential financial and psychological harms that can result from loot boxes – virtual assets within video games that contain unspecified items, which can be purchased for cash.
Key figures on the project will include Dr Helen Loyd and Dr James Close, who will cooperate with YGAM on how to best translate the knowledge from their work into educational and interventional materials aimed at young people, ‘at-risk cohorts’ such as those with special needs and disabilities and children.
“We’re delighted to be working with the University of Plymouth team,” said Kev Clelland, Director of Programme Engagement at YGAM.
“The study supports our commitment to ensuring all our programmes are evidence-led and external evaluations are used to further enhance our work.
“The subjects of loot boxes and video game monetisation feature heavily in the public and political conversations on gambling and they also form a key part of our education workshops and our resources. The conclusions of this important piece of work will help to strengthen our approach.”
The project will commence in May, and will see development of PSHE material for schools and educational approaches for specialist service providers through ‘a series of engagement and planning workshops’.
Up to 15 ‘key individuals’ representing organisations and communities connected to the loot box debate will participate in each workshop group, with the goal of developing a knowledge exchange action plan on the subject with the University.
Loot boxes have become a controversial phenomenon within gaming in recent years, with many comparing the products to a form of gambling, as gamers purchase the chance-based assets unaware of what they will gain from the transaction.
Dr Loyd remarked: “We are grateful to the University of Plymouth for funding us to work with YGAM and providers of services for vulnerable adults and children in the Southwest.
“Working in partnership with our wider stakeholders to use research generated knowledge helps us support the important work that they do, but also makes research relevant and timely. Working in this way we can tackle some of our most pressing societal issues whilst also creating local benefit.”
YGAM has stressed that total revenue of £700 million was generated in 2020 coming from just 5% of the buyers, whilst also pointing to research by Plymouth and Wolverhampton Universities which found that the products are ‘structurally and psychologically akin to gambling’.
The organisation has further that policymakers in countries such as the Netherlands and Australia have introduced legislation on loot boxes due to these concerns, but in the UK they are not covered by the scope of the 2005 Gambling Act – this could change as a result of the ongoing review of the legislation, with a White Paper due in the coming months.
Notable gambling reform advocates such as Lord Foster of Bath – Chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform (PGR) – have called for loot boxes to be classified as a form of gambling as an ideal outcome of the review, alongside a ban on sports sponsorships and stake limits on high-stakes casino games, among other measures.
YGAM has previously participated in the UK government’s call for evidence on loot boxes in 2020, ahead of the commencement of the Gambling Act review, with a decision on the gaming features expected this year.