Earlier this week, I had an incredibly impromptu chat with someone over a simple question: should loot boxes be regulated as gambling? So for this week's Big Question, let's tackle it head on.
Thanks to the nature of live radio, we didn't really get time to get into detail. But as more and more legislators around the world investigate the nature of loot boxes, including regulators in Australia, it's worth asking: should loot boxes be regulated, and what would that regulation look like?
The last time I spoke to ACMA, which regulates online gambling in Australia (separately to state gambling regulators), loot boxes don't fall under the definition of gambling. A sticking point is that a loot crate or box will always reward the player with a product at the end. Gambling doesn't: you could win big, you could win nothing.
Here was ACMA's stance, for clarity:
In general, online video games, including games that involve ‘loot box’ features, have not been regarded as ‘gambling services’ under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, because they are not ‘played for money or anything else of value’. That is, the game is not played with the object of winning money or other valuable items.
The question is: should that definition change or be expanded? Loot boxes are very obviously designed to be an enjoyable experience, with uplifting music and specific effects meant to encourage positive associations. Poker machines have done the same thing for decades.
Another question that can't be ignored: if loot boxes should be regulated, how far does that extend? Should, for instance, the publication of drop rates be considered mandatory for all video games on all platforms? Should that extend further and developers be required to offer purchase or spending limits on accounts, similar to reforms made to help combat addiction gambling?
What do you think?