Report: Microtransactions and loot boxes are becoming more common in PC games

Report: Microtransactions and loot boxes are becoming more common in PC games

New research from the University of York has said that microtransactions and loot boxes have become far more common within video games.

In a study entitled 'The changing face of desktop video game monetisation' looking at these business models within "desktop games" - aka PC titles - authors David Zendle, Nick Ballou and Rachel Meyer conclude that over 70 per cent of gamers played a title with a loot box in, while that figure hits 80 per cent when discussing cosmetic microtransactions.

Pay-to-win microtransactions - paid items that give the purchaser an advantage - are not as common, however, with researchers saying that in 2019 there is a "relatively low level of prevalence" for this type of content. In November 2015, around 17 per cent of users encountered such items but has since dropped to "the point where it was not significantly different from zero."

The prevalence of loot boxes has shot up by 67 per cent between March 2010 - when 4.27 per cent of gamers encountered them - to a huge 71.28 per cent by April 2019. This increase occurred between 2012 and 2014. 

For this research, academics looked at the play history of the 463 most-played titles on Steam between 2010 and 2019. 

"Academics and policymakers have expressed interest and concern in the potential consequences of the incorporation of the features outlined above in modern video games," researchers concluded.

"Recent reports have suggested that loot boxes may recently have experienced either a decline in popularity or a rise in popularity. This study instead suggests that, at least on desktop platforms, both loot boxes and cosmetic microtransactions experienced a sudden increase in prevalence during approximately 2012-to-2014, followed by a period of steady and gradual growth."

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.