Psychology: Random rewards from video games have an effect similar to using slots | Technology

“Do not steal money from your parents, do not spend money that you do not have,” warns the streamer Ibai at the beginning of a live show two months ago. “Calm down with the envelopes.” On the screen are five packs of the gold category for FIFA Ultimate Team. These items, which can be purchased for about 99 cents, contain random selections of soccer players – top scorers or athletes with more modest stats can come out. And their performance in the game will depend on it.

The video of Ibai opening player envelopes has more than a million and a half views on YouTube and is an example of the interest aroused by these chests of random content known in English as loot boxes (loot boxes). “There comes a certain point where as much as you want to keep moving forward, you can’t. This creates a disparity because the last way to achieve it is to open envelopes ”, explains Francisco Javier Sanmartín, a researcher at the University of Córdoba. The study just published by Sanmartín together with Juan Antonio Moriana and other researchers from the same institution locates the format of these rewards and, specifically, the emotions they provoke in those who consume them in a field close to that of games of chance.

“The loot boxes They have a veiled mechanic that works like something similar to slot machines ”, Moriana says. “You think that by putting in one euro you can get 50 or 100, but the machine always wins.” When expectations are separated from reality, problems begin: 45.5% of those surveyed reported guilt after the purchase. 50% admitted feeling discomfort and 17% experienced loss of control that led to new transactions.

In FIFA, the rewards are players of different categories; in other games they can be weapons or new options to customize characters. The higher the rarity of the item, the higher its in-game value. The prices, often less than a euro when it comes to the basic chests, limit their potential economic cost, but not the impact they have on the habits of your audience. “It is the prelude so that from a very young age they get used to a game mechanics with a structure very similar to that of games of chance”, warns Moriana. Not surprisingly, the age group with the most video game users is between 6 and 24 years old.

While the researchers admit that, despite the indications, the phenomenon is not yet sufficiently investigated to know the true extent of its effects, the market for loot boxes it constitutes a growing fraction of the income of this industry. According to a report by Juniper Research, the profits derived from the sale of these random booties will reach 20,000 million euros in 2025. A large figure that is amassed on the basis of small amounts: according to the work of Sanmartín, the average spending of the players stands at 18 euros per month and rises to 43.90 euros when the platforms announce new content.

Transparent chests

How can the board be balanced? Some titles, among which Fortnite stands out, have chosen to eliminate the random factor in these transactions: the in-game format of micropayments is maintained, but whoever chooses to buy knows what they are acquiring. The authorities of different countries advocate a transparency effort that at least indicates to the user the probability they have of obtaining valuable objects depending on the type of chest that they acquire. “It’s about the players knowing that what they are doing as innocent behavior is actually a game of probabilities that are far below what they believe,” continues Moriana.

In rating systems like PEGI, which identifies game contents and the ages for which they are suitable based on things like violence, language, and even casino and gambling hall simulations, there is a label specific to point to titles that include purchases. If the video game in question includes loot boxes, a note is added in parentheses: “Includes random articles.” For Sanmartín it is not enough: “As there is nothing regulated, they do not know very well what to do. In addition, it is put in a very small space in the back, in the lower corner, that you can hardly see ”.

Added to this is the direct or indirect promotion of these chests through channels such as YouTube or Twitch, where the videos dedicated to the opening of loot boxes they are a genre unto itself. “All this encourages and normalizes these behaviors in children, because they see the youtubers as people of considerable importance ”, adds Sanmartín. For Moriana, this kind of influence is also different from that of other content creators. “If I see a influencer with a bag and I buy it because I like it is a different thing. In this case, a buying and playing behavior is being introduced. A model of behavior is established. The expectation of ‘let’s see what I get’ hooks ”.

Researchers are, however, cautious about the level of alarm that these should raise right now. loot boxes. Not because they are not worrisome, but because they simply have not been researched enough to know the true extent of their effects and to determine if addiction can really be talked about in these settings. Sanmartín and Moriana underline the need to investigate the case of younger users who have already normalized this type of shopping. “We don’t know what will happen when these kids are older.”

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