Dr Pete Etchells on loot boxes and the psychology of video games © Getty Images

Dr Pete Etchells on loot boxes and the psychology of video games

Read the full transcript of our Science Focus Podcast interview with the Dr Pete Etchells – listen to the full episode at the bottom of the page.

Dan Bennett: Hi, welcome back to the Science Focus Podcast.

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I’m Daniel Bennett, the editor of BBC Science Focus magazine, and today I’m joined by Dr Pete Etchells, a professor of psychology, with a particular interest in how video games affect our mood and behaviour. Pete is also the author of the brilliant book Lost in a Good Game, which explores why we love video games and what they can do for us. Today, we’re talking about the relationship between gambling and video games, what we know and what we don’t. And crucially, we want you to help us with the research. So if you want to get involved in a real life scientific study that could shape the conversation around gaming and gambling, stay tuned and listen in for details at the end.

So, Pete, can you tell me why are you so interested in video games and behaviour?

Dr Pete Etchells: Well, because they’re great, I guess. I mean, I’ve always interested in video games. I’ve played them all my life. My background as a scientist obviously wasn’t in them to begin with. I started out life during my PhD, doing work on vision science. So I was interested in how and why we move our eyes to moving things in the world around us and what that can tell us about how the brain generally makes decisions and things like that. And I can pinpoint when I got interested in this whole question around video games and behaviour to going down to the pub around about 2011, we always used to go down to the pub on a Friday night. Everybody in our department. I think that day I read an article in a newspaper that shall not be named that said something like computer games leave kids with dementia, warns top neurologist. I wasn’t so much angry as I was just a bit dumbfounded because it seemed like such a bizarre claim to make and I looked at the the evidence behind it at the time and there was none. And we’re nearly 10 years down the line from that particular headline. And there’s still no research that suggests that playing video games causes dementia in kids. So I was having a big rant about this in the pub, and one of the professors in the department said, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is basically and do some work on that. And that was kind of the first time that it ever really occurred to me that as a psychologist, this is something that I could actually interrogate from a research point of view so I could bring together two things that I really love psychology and playing video games and try and answer some interesting scientific questions about them.

DB: And just you say that given how many of us these days play video games and if you just need if you need evidence, you can just look at how how quickly the PlayStation five keep selling out.

Am I right to say it’s quite understudied area of psychology?

PE: Yeah, in some ways, I mean, in some ways, there’s tons and tons of research from a psychological point of view. There’s tons of research out there on video games. In another sense, there is really not that much good stuff out there. So for the past 30 years or so, I would say the psychology and the understanding of media effects and video games specifically has been really dominated by this question around whether playing violent video games is causes aggression. And perhaps a little bit more recently, this idea of whether video games are addictive or not, those are interesting questions in and of themselves, but there’s a vast array of areas of study and avenues of research to do with video games that we’ve just not really touched because we’ve been so focussed on these more negative questions.

DB: So. So what kind of areas are you thinking about?

PE: So the most basic and obvious one would be looking at potential positive effects of play. Again, it’s something that we’ve seen bits of research on, but they tend to focus on things like: do brain training games work or not? And again, the evidence there has been pretty much that they they don’t. But looking really at how people play video games, that’s another one. Actually, we still don’t really have a good handle on why people play them. We’ve got an understanding of the types of things that people do in games, but really trying to understand in a really detailed way why people pick up a game controller every day after work or on the weekend or at two o’clock in the morning.

We really only just scratching the surface of that question.

DB: OK, so we’ll definitely loop back to that especially I’m particularly interested in as a science reporter, the kind of stream of sort of moral panic that we have every every so often around video games.

But I just want to turn our attention to something that your you know, the reason why we’re talking now, which is your your new research on a particular gameplay mechanic that’s sort of come into the spotlight in the last few months or last few years even. And they’re called loot boxes. So first off, just for somebody who might not know what a loot box is, what are they and why are they of interest to you?

PE: My favourite way of explaining what the boxes are is is harking back to something that you do as a kid. So when I was about eight, nine, 10, that sort of age, I always used to every year at the start of the Premier League by a football sticker album and you get packs of stickers. And in each pack there’s like six cards. And some of them you will get loads and loads of versions of the ones they always use, usually the shiny foil club logos and things like that. They were really rare. And basically lunchboxes are the digital equivalent of those sorts of packs.

So when you play a game, you’re given the opportunity to open a box. So literally a box. But in other games it could be things like opening pack of cards or spinning a wheel or something like that. And you will have a random chance of getting a selection of items out of that box. And what those items do varies from game to game. So some games that it might give you things like an outfit or costume for your character. So it doesn’t actually have any impact on your ability to play the game itself. It just makes you look a bit cooler in other games.

You might get new power ups or so games like Hearthstone, for instance, which is an online card game. It’s a bit like Magic: The Gathering. You can get new packs of cards and the new cards do new things in games so they might give you an in-game advantage. But regardless of how it’s implemented, the set up is basically the same across any sort of implementation of this in that you will get a random selection of items.

Some of them you get quite a lot and they’re relatively low value. They don’t really do much because of those two things. They’re not particularly desirable. Other items will be much, much rarer and they might look cooler or have much more powerful in-game advantages and therefore they become much more desirable. Now, the issue around loot boxes at the minute is that you get some of them for free in most games, but most games also offer you the opportunity to buy them as well. And it’s usually around about a pound to open one box or say 40 pounds to open 50 boxes and things like that. So the worry that a lot of scientists have, a lot of parents, I think as well, and increasingly policymakers have, is that this is something that’s within the video game environment that seems to look like gambling. This looks like something that you might see on a slot machine. Now, this idea that you pay a bit of money and you will you have a chance at winning something that you want and it’s sort of randomised, you don’t know necessarily what the odds are. So that’s why people are starting to get interested in loot boxes as a specific mechanism within games. Are they driving problematic gambling behaviours? Do they have any impacts on mental health and mental well-being or are we worrying about nothing? And that’s sort of what I’m trying to look at with the research that I’m doing at the minute is to try and put those three areas together. Basically, what’s the relationship between the types of games you play, the types of loot boxes that are implemented in them, as well as your own mental well-being, whether you show any problematic gambling behaviours and things like that, to see whether this is something that we need to be thinking a little bit more deeply about.

So in one part it’s understanding how much does this look like gambling? But also, regardless of this, does this mechanism, you know, is it healthy for our mental health? Because I suppose if you’re. If I remember, there was always a kid in school who had the biggest pile of those football stickers and I had a very small pile, and perhaps if I had the money at my disposal that I do today, back then, I could probably pour a lot of money into it, not only spend a lot of money, but also chances I’ll be quite unhappy by the end of it.

Yeah, I think there’s the problem with it is that there’s no upper limit because there’s never 100 per cent guarantee that even if you’re even after you open a thousand boxes, you will get that one particular item that you want. You can therefore spend inordinate amount of money on these boxes and there’s not really anything stopping you there. So that’s one potential issue. But I think this goes to a really interesting question here about what is it that we’re worried about? What do we mean when we talk about potential harm, particularly in this context? So one aspect of that might be financial harm. Can you can you afford to do this? It might be the case that you spend a thousand pounds a month on loot boxes. That’s either a problem or it isn’t, depending on your ability to afford that or not, and trying to interrogate that particular question in psychological research is often quite a difficult thing to do, because we often rely on fairly subjective questionnaire type measures where we’re relying on people being honest with us about things like how much they’re spending, how much they’re earning and things like that. That’s not to say it’s not an issue. There’s a potential real harm there in that if you’re spending beyond your means on on this particular mechanism, that’s going to cause all sorts of problems in your wider life. There are also issues around mental wellbeing, like you said.

DB: So is it the case that, regardless of your ability to to be able to spend money on these sorts of these sorts of mechanisms of these sorts of items, when you do it, does it help you at all or just does it cause largely negative affect behaviour? So lower your mood and we’ve got mixed evidence on that at the minute.

PE: So there’s a few studies out there that show that increases in loot box purchases and spending behaviours seems to be negatively correlated with mood. So the idea is if you spend more on the boxes, you also report that your mood’s lower as well. There are some studies out there, though, that show that correlation and at the same time show a correlation with positive moods as well. So at the same time, it’s showing that there’s reductions in mood.

They also show that people who spend more on the boxes also tend to be happier as well. So we’ve got a real mix of findings at the minute. And it’s difficult to tease these things apart. And that’s why I think it’s really important to do more work on this, because we’re at the stage at the minute, certainly in the UK, where we’re looking at potential regulation of these sorts of mechanics and games and maybe even going so far as to revise and update the UK Gambling Act to take into account. But we don’t really have a clear idea on what their actual effects are. I mean, we have a lot of studies out there that are good studies done well, but they’re all largely correlational in nature. So they show that if you spend more on loot boxes, you also report higher levels of problem gambling. But we don’t know what the causal direction there is.

It might be that people who are already prone to problematic gambling behaviours are drawn to to to games. They’ve got loot boxes in them. Or it might be the people are fine. Then they start playing games with loot boxes in them and that increases problematic gambling behaviour later on. And it’s the same with mental wellbeing. So it might be the case that for some people who are in difficult positions, they play these sorts of games and spend money on loot boxes. That lowers their mood, which is why we get those negative correlations. But for some people who can afford to do this and they enjoy playing games and getting more items in that game that they like playing, it’s a fun thing to do then that correlates with an increased mood.

So we need to figure out whether these are sort of bad across the board, in which case regulation is a good idea, or are there some cases in which it’s bad for for specific people, for specific groups of people, in which case we need to identify those people and figure out how best we can support them. But actually, for the gaming population at large, loot boxes offer a bit of a positive boost mood, in which case we shouldn’t get rid of them from games.

So we’re not at the stage where we can answer those sorts of questions yet with the research.

DB: For anyone who maybe isn’t, you know, isn’t wouldn’t call themselves the gamer. I mean, this is a pretty big, big stuff in reality, isn’t it? Because, I mean, it’s in some parts of Europe, the mechanic has been banned, is it the Netherlands?

PE: Yeah. So Belgium was the the particularly famous case a couple of years ago. So there was a big gambling commission investigation and it covered three particular games. So I think it looked to Overwatch, which is like a first person shooter type game, FIFA 2018 and Counterstrike, which is another first-person shooter. And they found that in all three of those cases, for each of those games, they were in violation of Belgium’s gambling legislation.

So basically because they were argued to be games of chance that involved this monetary wager in terms of selling loot boxes, they were there, therefore, the illegal.

DB: And I remember that someone who dabbles in FIFA, I think it was around then that FIFA, which has a very similar presentation, I suppose, to the the sticker packs and the card packs that we all so lovingly remember, although I know that EA games had to actually make it look significantly different to avoid the wrath of Panini who make those sticker boxes.

They had to start publishing the odds, didn’t they, of the chances of getting a certain promotional item within the pack. And I think that was a little bit of an eye opener in the UK. I think to some people who were, like myself, playing FIFA and realising how low your chances were of actually getting it.

PE: But I mean, you sort of touched the key thing is as well, and as is often the case with games, there’s lots of different mechanisms, isn’t there. You know, there are. And that that’s going to form part of research. But, you know, there’s there’s the hit here. You can get something that makes your game, makes your performance potentially better if you’re good enough. And then some of it’s just silly outfits that you can wear.

Yeah, yeah. I mean, there is some work on this already in the sense that so there was a study that came out actually in January this year that looked at or try to kind of segregate loot box games by the types of loot boxes that they’re implemented. Generally, they found that it doesn’t matter how it’s implemented. If you pay for them, there was a relationship with problem gambling, not a massive one, but it’s there. But the interesting thing from that study was that that effect becomes stronger or weaker, depending on how the loot box is implemented in that particular game. So, for example, some games use what’s basically called a near miss strategy. It’s kind of what you see in slot machines, in casinos. So you open a box or you spin a wheel. This is a classic one. So you spin the wheel and you can see all of the options that you can win on the wheel, but you don’t get any of the ones you want. You get the the rubbish one, basically. So you’re shown what you just missed out on. That seems to show the strongest effect, whereas games, which I don’t use that, or they give you items in the boxes that don’t offer any in-game advantage so that just things like character outfits or stickers or things like that, the effect is much weaker. We also find as well is that if you play games where boxes you can’t pay for them at all, then you don’t see these associations as well.

DB: And so so that’s my next question. I think so.

Clearly, game designers are quite clever then when it comes to sort of our psychology, and I don’t want to sound like they’re malevolent, but sort of, you know, like any like a casino designer or, you know, like someone who designs a really great shopping centre, they have to understand or know about our psychology. Is that something game designers are thinking of?

PE: I’m sure it is, but I don’t necessarily know that they’re thinking about it in the same way that we’re talking about it here now, I think, you know, whenever you talk to industry and explain some of the the scientific research behind how things like gambling work, they recognise it, but they don’t know it for, you know, the technical terms that you’ve used. What I suspect tends to happen instead is that you have a sort of period of trial and error where they try out different ways of doing things. And we’re talking about how you best monetise games at the minute because people don’t really spend money as a one-off thing outright for the game at the start. Now, that’s sort of a business model that that died about 15, 20 years ago. So game developers need to find ways to make their products viable from a from a profit point of view. But if you implement something in a game and release it out there into the wider world and you start getting loads of money for it, you might see that as a good thing without necessarily thinking about the psychological impact that that might have on your player base, because it’s not necessarily the thing that you’re thinking about when you implement it. So, yeah, there are psychologists that work at video games development companies. They tend to work and things like user experience. Like in any walk of life, there are some good ones, some bad ones and some in the middle, really. But I hear this argument quite a lot. The people think the games development companies are evil, basically, that they’re doing these things deliberately. And, you know, like you said, it’s not. I wrote a book a couple of years ago about this stuff and I got to interview some games developers at some big, big firms, and I never got that impression from them. You know, these are people who love games. And they lucked out because they happened to get into a job where they could do something that they could enjoy and was their hobby. A lot of them are parents as well. And they just you know, they just came across as normal people. Right. They’re trying to do the best they can. There’s no single driving evil force that’s that’s that’s running. What happens in these companies is that you have fairly kind of segregated groups of teams that are all working on little bits of a game. And then that all comes together as a final product at the end. So they’re not always necessarily talking to each other, certainly about psychology and the psychological impact of of what they’re doing. They’ll just go within whatever their specific remit is. So I think we have to be really careful about how we have these conversations and not vilify games developers.

Equally, I would say that there have been some situations where games developers have said some really dumb things that have made them look super evil, but I’m sure that’s a mistake as well. But not vilify them because, A, I think they’re just people. They’re just normal people. And B, particularly from my point of view as a scientist, they’re the gatekeepers to the best data that we’ve got out there. So one thing that’s a real struggle, not just about loot boxes, but about video games generally is that we often have to rely on, like I said earlier, these sort of subjective questionnaires and reports. We’re asking people, you know, how do you feel about this game or what do you do in this game or how long do you spend on this game? And even if you’re being as super honest as you can be or if you think you can be and answering those questions, turns out people aren’t very good at these sorts of self-report measures. There’s a growing line of research at the minute that’s looking at this in the particular context of screen time. So most studies out there on screen time will involve asking people how much of your day do you spend on Instagram or on your smartphone or on TV? Now, when you look at the data that people provide versus the data that you can grab off their smartphones with things like a screen time app, that they’re completely off the mark, people are really bad at estimating time in that sense. And that makes sense in a way for video games in particular, because the whole point of playing video games is that you immerse yourself in a fantastical world for a bit just to zone out. So you’re not going to be keeping an eye on the clock really when you’re doing that. So we’re really bad at those sorts of things. Games companies have that data. They have the real objective data of how much people are spending, what they’re spending it on, what time they’re spending in the game, who they’re engaging with, all of those sorts of things. That would be a treasure trove for scientists like me to get their hands on.

DB: And so, let’s go back to your research then. So at the moment, you’re investigating all these things that we’ve just talked about. I just wondered, are we also looking at, er, sort of randomness in games in general? Because it occurred to me while I was reading up on this that I suppose for quite a long time this some version of this has been in games before we coined the term loot box, I think back to my days playing Warcraft, where we would do a raid. Showing my slight bias here and my passion for the game.

But, you know, you would go into a dungeon with a group of friends, you kill the boss, and then some element of luck would determine your reward. Are you interested in how similar these things look and feel to the to the the end user, the gamer?

PE: I think that’s a really important question to ask, actually, because it’s not the case that random chance mechanisms are unique to loot boxes. Pretty much every video game over the past 40, nearly 50 years have those sorts of chance mechanisms in them that form part of things like what you say, determining the challenge level in a raid in Warcraft or determining what piece of armour you happen to get and things like that. And you’re not paying for that. So it’s not the case that in a Warcraft raid, when you beat the boss, you then have to pay 50p for the chance of getting the bit of armour that you want. That would be a nightmare, but yeah, you just get it or you don’t. Nobody’s worried about that, really. I think there’s probably going to be some people who disagree with me in that. One argument you could make is that if we’re worried about these chance elements in the context of finance and monetisation and loot boxes and that we’re saying that these sorts of things might have an effect on people, it’s not that much of a step to say, well, if this is pervasive in all aspects of the game, maybe that’s what makes games addictive.

I’m fairly ambivalent about that, really. And I think fundamentally that’s just part of what games are that you go around and you get a chance at getting something. And if you don’t get it, oh, well, you know, you can always try again next time. But I think there’s an important question. If you do decide to go down that route, there’s an important question about where do you draw the line, because you can argue that there’s random chance elements in terms of things like, say, let’s carry on with Warcraft. So let’s say that there’s a quest that you’ve got to do where you’ve got to earn one hundred gold from killing boars. Each boar drops a random amount of money. So there’s a random chance element there, you might get one gold from killing one or you might get 20 gold, right? So if you’re worried that that random chance mechanism might draw people into playing the game or what do you do about it, how do you change it? I’m not sure how you can. And actually, it probably doesn’t even matter because player one might have to kill a hundred boars because they were really unlucky it to you might have to kill five boars because they were really lucky. But at the end of that, for both of them, they finished the quest and they moved on to something else. So there’s you know, there’s an end point for that chance mechanism to have have its impact. So it’s you know, you start thinking about it in those sorts of terms.

It becomes really difficult to think about how you would assess that in an experiment really quickly. And this is one of the major problems that we’ve had with video games research, not just looking at addiction or loot boxes, but in any question around psychological effects over the past 30 years. How do you define video games and how do you operationalise your variables so you can be sure that that thing that you’re changing from condition A to condition B really, A, is meaningful and B is the thing that you think it is. It becomes a very difficult question to answer very quickly. We’ve not really got a good handle on it.

DB: And this system, it does remind me of my psychology undergrad degree where we obviously learnt… This is going to be bad if I get the term wrong. But essentially it’s a form of what psychologists call operant conditioning, is that right?

PE: Yeah. So, yeah.

DB: So I’ll let the psychologist explain.

PE: So really kind of what we’re talking about here is that they’re called variable ratio schedules.

So it’s this idea that you might have, let’s say, a 1 in 10 chance of winning something, but it’s not the case that you have 9 goes and you lose every time, and then on the 10th you win it and then you have another 9 goes and you don’t win. And then on the 20th go, you win. You get a kind of randomised pattern of of wins and losses and it averages out to 1 in 10 chance. But there’s a couple of things that therefore work against you in those sorts of situations. So the first is that because you can’t precisely predict when you’re going to hit the jackpot or get that thing that you want in loot box, it means that you’re more likely to carry on playing until you do win it. The second is that you might win with just enough frequency not to be put off by the number of times you lose. So go back to a World of Warcraft example. If you have to kill a boss a hundred times in order to get that one piece of armour that you really, really want, if you like me and you’re a bit lazy, you’re probably not going to do that, right? Yeah. Whereas if you only maybe need to kill them 10 times in order to get a chance to do that, sounds a little bit more appealing. It feels a bit more appealing. Yeah. So it’s kind of it’s things like that. It’s all about this ties into sort of fundamental area of research and psychology around how we learn things. And operant conditioning is one way in which that can happen.

DB: OK, so yeah, I want to go back to this research. So I just quickly, actually. So when I was again reading into this, I wondered,  are we just talking about the Overwatches and Hearthstones and FIFAs of the world?

I’m talking about big console titles. Or are these things appearing in things that are even more pervasive, like, you know, mobile games which have, I suppose, just as big or sometimes even bigger user bases.

PE: It’s a really good question. I think when we talk about maybe loot box is the wrong term to use as well, because certainly in my mind, it is a very specific image. And basically, whenever I think of loot box, I think of Overwatch because it’s literally a box that you open to get loot.

But like I said earlier, these these can take all sorts of different forms. It can be a spinning wheel, for example, or so Mario Kart Tour on the mobile has a form of loot box in it, which is you can fire off a pipe, a green pipe from Mario series, and you get a random chance at getting a new driver or a new car or a new set of glider wings something like that. So these things are certainly everywhere in games. Not we’re not just talking about console and PC games. We are talking about mobile games as well. So, the problem there is that loot boxes are a specific way of implementing a system in which you can get money out of people like what we call micro transactions. So you’re getting small amounts of money, but frequently from people. And they’re one particularly well known particular focus at the minute. My worry with having too much of a focus on the boxes, though, is that actually we’re missing all sorts of other mechanisms that are being implemented in games, particularly in mobile games, that that have the potential to be much more insidious in terms of their effects. And this is the issue with thinking about legislation around the boxes, if you define them in a specific way, you might be able to tick your box of saying we’ve regulated loot boxes, but you’ve missed all of this other stuff that actually is much more problematic and has much clearer links to gambling like mechanisms.

And then we have to do the entire thing all over again, which will take another five years.

DB: And I suppose that that brings me very nicely to what is so interesting and exciting about this research that you’re doing now is that it’s you’re not just going to publish it in a paper, but that this is you know, this is a document that has the potential of informing future policies.

PE: Yeah, hopefully. So the government’s DCMS, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, is looking at loot boxes very specifically at the minute. They had a call for evidence, I think, closed about a week or two ago, or they’re having lots of roundtable discussions at the minute. So with all sorts of people just trying to get a feel for what we do and do not know about loot boxes, my impression is that they’re being very sensible about it and they’re trying to be evidence based and evidence led. My worry at the minute is that our evidence base isn’t there yet. Like I said earlier, most, if not all of the studies out there on loot boxes are correlational in nature. That’s not to disparage them. I think it’s just part of the nature of how how we go about doing this sort of research. And in fact, the study that I’m doing at the minute will largely be correlational in nature. It’s going to be. So no doubt for a second it’s going to use Bayesian statistics to look at the strength of evidence for the associations that we see in the literature. So kind of an incremental step forward.

But what we need really is good causal studies that use objective data. That’s the sort of stuff that policy should be based on. And we’re really not there with it.

DB: Yeah, and that stuff, from my brief experience in psychology, does take some considerable design and time and candidates and I suppose is a longer term mission to to complete.

PE: Yeah, definitely. And I think part of the reason why I sit on the fence a little bit around thinking about whether the boxes are generally bad or good or not, is that we’ve got all of this research that seems to be pointing in the same direction. It’s all this correlational stuff that says doesn’t matter how it’s implemented, if you pay for it, there seems to be a relationship between that and problematic gambling behaviours. And we’ve got enough studies that say that now that you think, well, yeah, it’s not causal, but there’s a lot there to suggest that there’s something going on that we should be worried about. My concern with that is that if you look at what’s happened in other research areas to do with video games, we’ve gone through these sort of similar cycles of lots and lots of studies showing that there is a clear negative effect. But they’re all based on a particular way of doing things in a particular way of collecting the data. And then actually, when you get some real objective data from industry and you do a really robust, replicable, open science study, you find the opposite effect. And it’s sort of somewhat counterintuitive. So my worry is I don’t necessarily know if that will happen with loot box research, because, like I say, the work that’s out there at the moment is good. It’s preregistered. All of the data are available out there for most of the studies that look at this. But if we’ve just not got the right research questions yet and we’re not asking them in the right sort of way, I’m just cautious that we don’t want to get to a point where three years down the line, we’ve regulated loot boxes because we’ve based it on the research that we’ve got now. And then actually, we do the study that we wanted to do all along. And it turns out actually they’re fine, in which case we’ve made a terrible mistake. So, yeah, I’m trying to sit on the fence with it.

DB: Yeah, it’s a common theme across psychology. You suggest that, you know, it’s I suppose it’s a youngish subject and we only have the means and the methods, the study that we have to hand. But it is often the case that, you know, once we dig into things, especially when it comes to correlational studies, you know, the correlation sometimes missed the nuance of what’s actually going on.

PE: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And I guess it depends what sort of question you’re asking and particularly in the context of a loot boxes. There’s the big why question. So that’s the thing that we’ve really not got to grips with yet. So let’s assume for a second that this correlation between buying loot boxes and poor mental health is is real, and there’s a causal direction that we can infer from that. Actually, the important question is why, why? Why is this happening? What can we do about it? And, you know, in some ways, I think the why question needs to come first, really. So you need really good theoretical background, a theoretical rationale for doing the study that you want to do, and then that might lead you into getting the right methods. And that’s you know, that’s not to say just finding out whether there’s an association between one thing or another is about things that is not is very useful. But that why question is, I guess the one that I’m really interested in.

DB: So that the next really exciting thing about this is, is people listening can can get involved.

PE: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s basically it’s a ten minute survey. So we’ve got all the problems that I was talking about before, but all the stats will be really good. So don’t worry about that side of things. But yeah.

So if people are over the age of 18 and if they’ve played a game that contains some sort of loot box like mechanic in over the past month or so, I’d love them to take part in the survey. We need a lot of people. We need about 5,000 participants for it to do justice, basically. So the more the merrier.

DB: Brilliant, thanks, Pete, thanks for your time. Thank you very much.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Science Focus Podcast. Now, if you want to take part in Dr Etchells research and you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, head over to bit.ly/lootboxresearch.

This link will take you to Bath Spa University’s website where you’ll find the survey we’ve mentioned. Keep an eye out on sciencefocus.com, where we’ll be writing more about Pete’s work and indeed about the psychology of gaming in general. Also, if you enjoyed this episode, please do check out the latest issue of BBC Science Focus magazine in December. We’ve taken a deep dive into the search for extraterrestrial life. We talk to the scientists sending messages into outer space and we take a look at the missions hunting for signs of life in our own solar system.


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