Science and Lootboxes

So making headlines right now is a story about how the an Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC) has said “Loot boxes provide games companies with an unregulated way of exploiting gambling disorders.”

Now, near as I can tell, this leads back to a study recently published by Dr David Zendle and Dr Paul Cairns, found here. I’m under the impression that the study was possibly funded by, or performed at the request of, the aforementioned committee.

Admittedly, my knowledge of statistics isn’t strong enough to comment on things like p-values and standard deviations. I… kinda know what they are and what they’re supposed to mean, but I couldn’t tell you mathematically how to derive those numbers. By no means am I an expert. I did read through it and there’s one huge immediately glaring flaw.

“We conducted an online survey with a self-selected sample of gamers aged 18 or older. Participants were recruited via reddit, a popular online bulletin board.”

Self reporting issues aside, their data was drawn entirely from reddit? That’s… bad. Reddit is rather noisy and militant in it’s hatred of loot boxes. It seems that it’s a very biased choice of population.

It’s like taking a presidential approval poll for Trump and only asking democrats what they think. Of course it’ll be low. Democrats are a wide and varied group so I’m sure you’d get a few who like him, but the overall population is going to trend toward outright hatred.

This doesn’t invalidate the result on it’s own though. My other main concern is that someone could create a bot, or simply a large group of users, to bias this data in the direction they want it to go. It’s a stretch, but it’s plausible.

It’s a good first step though, we’re beginning to collect studies about this type of thing and they seem to be leaning in the same direction, more or less.

Loot boxes appear to provide a way for people with gambling problems to engage in the behavior outside the normal avenues. It seems to trigger the same psychological patterns found in “normal” gambling.

I think I’m coming around to the idea that we should do something about it now while we wait for some really solid science to come back around.

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