Here’s a jack in a box with a digital twist: loot boxes in games are a strange new phenomenon, with growing links to problem gambling and addiction issues among teens and adolescents. Yet they were worth $15 billion in revenue in 2020 and are forecast to grow by another $5 billion by 2025.
But what are they? Why all the fuss? And what’s in the damn boxes?
Here’s a brief introduction and overview of loot boxes statistics and insights so you can stay abso-lootly up-to-date.
What Are Loot Boxes?
In recent years, anyone playing video games has stumbled or bought these mystery boxes, either with in-game or actual currency. Once opened, the mystery crates known as loot boxes offer a random selection of game items including character skins, costumes, new weapons or weapon adornments, etc.
Loot boxes first appeared in games online as means of driving engagement and keeping players interested by offering unexpected rewards, as well as to encourage in-game purchases and generate revenue.
General Loot Box Facts
Half of UK video games have loot boxes of some kind.
(Behavioural Public Policy) (GambleAware) (TheConversation)
The scale of the problem can be outlined in a few big brush strokes. A 2021 study found that loot boxes were present in about half of all UK video games. Earlier, Australian researchers found that, in about half (45%) of games, loot boxes could be considered “psychologically similar to gambling.” Finally, a 2018 and 2019 survey could not agree whether it was half or three-quarters of video game players who had purchased loot boxes – but the general scope of the problem is apparent.
Over 1% of surveyed Internet users buy loot boxes.
When a study examined the behaviour of over 46,000 internet users, it turned out that 586 had bought the mystery boxes in question during their gaming adventures. That may not seem like a significant percentage, but the sheer volume of people and gamers online make it a worrying trend.
One in three British gamers spends money on loot boxes at least once a week.
A 2021 study found that every third British gamer buys loot boxes at least once per week. The study examined the behaviour of over 1000 UK and Northern Ireland gamers and concluded that the popularity of loot boxes has been growing rapidly, with the global pandemic playing a key role.
The vast majority of British respondents are critical of the concept of loot boxes.
The British public largely frowns upon PC loot games, as two-thirds of those surveyed stated that loot boxes encourage gambling and one in five believe that mystery crates should be completely banned. Nearly half of respondents believe games should have a cap on the total sum of money that can be spent on loot boxes.
Loot Boxes Demographics
When young adults buy loot boxes, they see more gambling-related harm.
One reason why the issue is gaining relevance is the loot boxes demographics. Worryingly, people between the ages of 18 and 24 who buy loot boxes are associated with a broader range of gambling problems. A study found that gamer girls in this age group who participate in loot box trading end up spending more money on gambling in the following 12 months and were later found to have developed positive attitudes towards gambling.
The average age of loot box purchasers in 2021 was 36.7 years.
A 2021 online survey of 2,000 random respondents found that while loot boxes and crates were most frequently bought by those aged 18-24, the median age of buyers was 36.7 years. This means that, even though older gamers were not exposed to loot boxes in their vulnerable adolescent years, the compulsion loop of this gaming feature still proves irresistible.
Loot box buyers are evenly distributed between genders.
In terms of gender, loot boxes demographics paint a fairly balanced picture: about half (55.3%) of gamers engaging in loot box purchases and trades are male, the remaining 44.7% of mystery crates purchased by women. This indicates that gambling tendencies and the reward mechanism ‘core loop’ show little preferences in terms of men vs women as far as the gaming world is concerned.
Every other loot box buyer meets the criteria for problem gambling.
If you or someone you know regularly handle gamer loot boxes, the prognosis is not rosy: almost half of those who buy or trade can be considered problem gamblers, which speaks volumes to the addictive aspect.
The vast majority of loot box purchasers in the UK are Caucasians.
A study released in 2021 revealed that 86% of prize crates buyers in the UK are Caucasian, 6.4% are of South Asian heritage, while only 3% are black. Other ethnicities make up about 3%, according to current statistics on loot boxes.
Loot Boxes Platform Statistics
Most high-grossing iPhone games in the UK have loot boxes…
(Behavioural Public Policy)
A 2020 survey examined 100 of the most popular iPhone games in the UK and found that 59% contain in-game loot boxes. Nevertheless, a staggering 95% were categorized as suitable for children.
As do most popular Google Play games…
2020 statistics on loot boxes show that 58% of the most popular games from Google Play available worldwide contain loot boxes. As many as 93% of those are regarded as appropriate for children.
As do the majority of the most popular games on Steam.
University of York research indicates that the presence of loot boxes and crates in desktop games is growing. Looking at 463 of the most popular games on the Steam platform between 2010 and 2019, researchers found the rate of prevalence of games with loot boxes was only 4% in 2010 but grew to 71% in 2019.
The study discovered a corresponding increase in in-game microtransactions as well, the prevalence rising from 8% to 86% in a decade.
But the presence of loot boxes on Steam fell 15% at the end of 2017.
A sudden drop in the availability of loot boxes in games was recorded on the Steam platform in 2017. A study estimated a 15% decrease in the number of mystery crates across several months.
The reason behind the drastic fall, according to the study commissioned by Gamble Aware, was the release of Star Wars Battlefront II, which spiked a controversy for including too many loot box opportunities and promoting gambling, and the resulting public backlash.
Now platforms are imposing loot box regulations.
(Business of Apps) (Google Play) (The Verge)
In an effort to respond to critics, both Google Play and the App Store started imposing loot box market regulations in 2019. Publishers are now required to disclose loot box probability rates before they are allowed to offer their games on the platforms.
Loot Box Revenue and Spending Statistics
Loot boxes are forecast to generate US$20 billion in revenue by 2025.
Annual worldwide loot box revenue was estimated at $15 billion in 2020 and is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2025. Loot box trading is predicted to see steady growth in value, reaching $18.7 billion in 2022 and $19.8 billion in 2024.
Half of all loot box money comes from roughly 5% of gamers.
Loot box gambling statistics consistently show that 5% of gamblers are responsible for roughly half the industry’s revenue. This is the category of gamers who spend £70 or more a month on the mystery crates.
It should come as no great surprise that about a third of the gamers in this category meet the criteria for ‘problem gamblers,’ while other estimates put the figure as high as half of all gamers in the category.
Over 230 million gamers will be buying loot boxes by 2025.
Data show that the loot box industry is booming, as the volume of purchases is expected to grow 5% annually until 2025, with roughly 5% of gamers – over 230 million people – buying and trading loot boxes. The majority of the figures above are accounted for by the mobile gaming industry, but the study suggests growing contributions from so-called battle passes (where the game rewards the players who have purchased the pass with random gifts during a set period) as well as downloadable content on consoles (DLC), which lets players download fresh, playable content for previously released games.
In the UK, 3-6% of all gamers made in-game purchases.
A study published by the UK Office of Communications in 2020 found that 4% of adults and 6% of children had spent money on loot boxes in free-to-play games in the previous year. The results were only slightly different for paid games, where 4% of adults and 3% of children engaged in loot box purchases.
Loot box spending is expected to grow by billions.
(Behavioural Public Policy)
According to loot box industry monetization figures from analysts Juniper Research, global spending and gambling with loot boxes in 2022 is forecast to reach $50 billion. In 2020, the top three Steam games alone saw a combined 1.45 billion in-game transactions, the value of which surpassed US$1 billion.
The Far East and China have the highest loot box expenditure rate.
China and the countries of the Far East are estimated to have spent over US$9 billion on prize crates in 2020, according to new loot boxes statistics, which puts them ahead of other regions by quite a margin. The second-highest expenditure rate in 2020 was seen in North America with $3.7 billion.
Market projections estimate the Far East region including China will continue to grow rapidly and cross the US$10 billion threshold by the end of 2021.
Loot boxes earned Chinese servers over $500,000 a day.
Contrary to popular beliefs that profits gained by loot boxes and crates are trivial, the findings of a 2020 scientific paper reveal this gaming feature attracts serious profits. After observing several Chinese Counter-Strike servers, experts found that loot box openings brought in revenues of over half a million US dollars per day, on average, over a two month period.
A UK player spent £700 on loot boxes in games in only a month.
(Cambridge University Press)
The media has continuously reported dramatic loot box spending, including a UK player that spent £700 on in-game mystery crates in one month only. Other similar cases have been recorded throughout the UK, such as the four children spending £550 of their father’s money, without his permission, in three weeks. Tellingly, the young players still didn’t receive the item they were going for.
In-game skin gambling alone will be worth over $320 million by 2025.
According to research data released in 2021, the value of in-game item betting in 2025 is forecast to reach US$321 million. While this is a growth of $100 million in less than five years, it is also a marked decline compared to the peak five years earlier, in 2016. We believe that the reason behind the decline is the recent spate of skin gambling bans in a number of countries.
Loot Boxes and Gambling Statistics
One in six surveyed gamers fall in the problem gambler category.
The Problem Gambling Severity Index classifies individuals in four risk groups based on their self-assessed gambling behaviour. A study found that 17% of gamers who purchased loot boxes in games during the previous year belong in the problem gambler category, while another 7% of surveyed individuals were ranked as moderate-risk gamblers.
Those who spend money on loot boxes are more likely to be problem gamblers.
(The Royal Society Publishing)
A 2019 study examined loot boxes as gambling, tracking the behaviour of adolescents when given the opportunity to buy the prize crates. The research found those who were categorized as problem gamers in the self-assessment questionnaire were more likely to spend significant amounts of money on in-game loot boxes.
All in all, the authors of the study suggest that loot boxes are quite similar to traditional gambling.
Studies link loot boxes to problem gambling.
(BBC) (Sage Journals)
Are loot boxes considered gambling? A broad review of previous studies and recent evidence conducted by the universities of Wolverhampton and Plymouth confirmed that loot boxes have the same psychological impact on individuals as gambling.
A separate study conducted by the Dublin Business School measured the heart rate and galvanic skin response of 35 gamers while playing a video game. The study found an increase in their arousal when taking part in loot box microtransactions akin to that in gambling.
Such insights have encouraged the House of Lords and the UK government to take action, but no specific legislation regarding loot boxes has been implemented so far.
Loot boxes are restricted and regulated in several European and Asian countries.
(BBC) (Screen Rant) (UK Parliament) (UK Government)
In 2018, the Gaming Commission of Belgium declared loot boxes in games to be harmful and officially banned their usage after investigating four of the most popular multiplayer games at the time: Overwatch, Star Wars Battlefront II, Fifa 18, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
The policy means that any game containing loot boxes sold on Belgian territory has to remove the feature in order to be available in the country. Those who fail to comply are subject to a penalty of about £697,000 as well as a prison sentence of up to 5 years for the publisher.
Other countries which have imposed similar legislation include China, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 2020, the UK House of Commons also called for action regarding video game loot boxes.
Impact Of Loot Boxes
One in ten children will go into debt due to manipulative gaming features.
Statistics on loot boxes provided by the UK Royal Society for Public Health shows that 10% of children are expected to go into debt due to psychologically manipulative features in video games.
The study also found that 11% of surveyed children had used their parents’ credit cards to purchase loot box games, while 9% had borrowed money they couldn’t repay in order to buy in-game loot boxes and crates.
Children feel that online games are fun only if you spend money.
(The Parent Zone)
A report by the Parent Zone claims that almost half of surveyed children believe they need to spend money on video games for them to be fun to play. This is especially alarming given that 93% of children in the UK aged 10-16 play video games regularly. However, three out of four surveyed children are aware of the fact that video games are designed to make you spend money on them.
Covid-19 encouraged additional loot box spending among younger gamers.
A survey conducted among young video game players during lockdown found that a quarter of them experienced feelings of addiction to loot boxes. Furthermore, 15% of the 600 respondents said they had taken money from their parents without their consent for loot box purchases.
While video game addiction is nothing new, another worrying sign is that the figures are significantly higher compared to research conducted pre-Covid, a member of the Royal Society for Public Health said.
Probability disclosures should be explicitly regulated.
(Behavioural Public Policy)
The probability rate is the chance of winning the item you want when purchasing a loot box in games and new regulations dictate that publishers must disclose the rate for each item in play. Yet while only 4.4% of games lack such information altogether, the rest may choose to disclose the figures away on the game’s website or purchase page, bury them under other irrelevant content, or display them in a variety of graphic or numerical ways, not always to the benefit of the customer. A 2021 study found that, in effect, more than 80% of games containing loot boxes fail to display probability disclosures in an easily accessible, clear, and informative manner.
Games and Loot Boxes Statistics
Overwatch collected over $1 billion from in-game purchases in 2019.
Loot box statistics regarding Overwatch include a momentous figure: the game has made more than a billion dollars from selling in-game content alone. It is now the 64th video game to hit the $1 billion mark and loot boxes are certainly responsible for a large portion of the revenue.
Call of Duty microtransactions were worth over $1 billion in 2020.
Company data shows that Blizzard received over US$1.2 billion from microtransactions in the period between July and September 2020 alone. The company’s analyses show that microtransactions in the Call of Duty franchise (including Warzone and Modern Warfare) increased by a factor of four compared to 2019.
FIFA Ultimate Team earns $3,000 per minute from loot boxes.
(EA Annual Financial Report) (Engadget)
According to the yearly financial report of the company which publishes the FIFA game franchise, in 2021 Electronic Arts made $3,000 per minute from their FIFA Ultimate Team packs, which employ the same principle as loot boxes in other games.
Blizzard removed paid loot boxes from their Heroes of the Storm game in 2019.
(Green Man Gaming)
Heroes of the Storm loot box statistics show that Blizzard removed paid loot chests from the game with a single stroke of the mouse, bucking a general trend towards monetization. The company hasn’t provided an explanation for their decision, but such changes in the gaming world are surely looming on the horizon after several countries imposed loot box laws and restrictions.
But fear not, brave heroes: although the randomized loot crates are gone, players can still spend actual money on game characters, weapons, and features.
Loot Boxes Facts
Loot box prizes are not essential to gameplay.
(German Games Industry Association)
Ever since their introduction to the gaming world a decade or so ago, loot boxes in games have been optional accessories, meaning they’re not necessary to complete the game successfully. The mystery crates commonly bestow outfits and other superficial features that don’t provide any gaming advantages but still manage to hook the players into buying them.
At least the quantity of items in loot boxes is always known.
(German Games Industry Association)
Even though the nature of the items one might receive is a tantalizing mystery, the player is always aware of their number. The same principle applies to Panini trading cards and Kinder Surprise eggs.
Game development continues even after the official release.
(German Games Industry Association)
The avatar skins and minute additions in loot boxes and crates, whether free or paid, are fresh new content keeping the game exciting for players and relevant to developers. Any income generated from those who want to adorn their characters and weapons helps keep game prices reasonable for the vast majority of players who don’t.
What’s the Bottom Line?
While they are thrilling for players and lucrative for game developers, loot boxes seem to be a gateway to gambling for some. Recent loot boxes statistics have only confirmed the severity of the problem, encouraging a number of countries to impose limits and legislation. The UK authorities, however, are still figuring out the details and are yet to suggest concrete loot box regulations.
- Business of Apps
- Behavioural Public Policy
- EA Annual Financial Report
- Google Play
- Green Man Gaming
- Liebert Pub
- Online Library
- PC GamesN
- Psy Arxiv
- Psy Arxiv
- Sage Journals
- Science Direct
- Screen Rant
- Sky News
- The Gamer
- German Games Industry Association
- The Parent Zone
- The Royal Society Publishing
- The Verge
- UK Government
- UK Parliament
- Which 50