The Australian Senate Will Vote On An Investigation Into Loot Boxes Today

The Senate has announced its intention to back a motion that will result in a vote on whether the "use of loot boxes in video games, whether they constitute gambling, and whether they are appropriate for younger audiences" should be investigated by a committee enquiry today.

Update: The Senate has approved the motion, with the full details below:

Australian Senate Inquiry Into Loot Boxes Will Report By September 17

Following notice of a motion submitted by the Australian Greens yesterday, the Australian Senate has supported a move to have the Environment and Communications References Committee investigate the use of loot boxes in video games.

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In a release sent out to press, Senator Jordon Steele-John said he had been pushing for the government to look into the loot boxes following the outcry and concerns raised by gamers over the last twelve months.

The Senate's support of the motion means that the government will move a motion today to have the Environment and Communications References Committee, which is currently holding inquiries into the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program, local content on broadcast, radio and streaming services, and the current and future effects of climate change on housing, buildings and infrastructure, investigate loot boxes.

A representative from Senator Steele-John's office confirmed that the motion was supported by the Senate with no debate or vote required. A representative for the Government said they "agree that loot boxes in video games that are worthy of closer examination", with Communications Minister Mitch Fifield having "recently discussed this issue with a number of colleagues".

The support from the Greens, Labor and the Federal Government makes it highly likely that the motion will be carried tomorrow, thereby resulting in a wider national conversation about the use of loot boxes.

"I have significant concerns about the adequacy of current consumer protection and regulatory frameworks for monetised game mechanics, particularly when we know they are accessible to children ... an incredible number of popular big name titles incorporate these kinds of monetised game mechanics, not as a way of improving in-game experience, but as a way of simply prying more money off of their players," Senator Steele-John said in a release.

Psychologists Argue Loot Boxes In Some Games Are 'Akin To Gambling'

A comment paper published in Nature Human Behaviour argues that loot boxes in some video games, including Call of Duty. Infinite Warfare, FIFA 18, Halo Wars 2 and For Honor, can "meet the structural and psychological criteria for gambling".

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The Greens Senator's motion, as outlined in the Senate Hansard on Tuesday, was as follows:

Senator Steele-John: To move on the next day of sitting—That the Senate—
(a) notes:
(i) that the video game monetisation mechanic known as ‘loot boxes’, which generate random digital rewards in exchange for real money, are similar to gambling, and may not be appropriate for younger audiences,
(ii) that a paper published in Nature Human Behaviour on 18 June 2018, entitled ‘Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling’, recommended that games that use loot boxes ‘appear to meet both the psychological and legal definitions of gambling’ and that ‘ratings agencies and gambling regulatory bodies consider restricting access to people of legal gambling age’,
(iii) that, on 20 June 2018, The Netherlands put into effect its ban on loot boxes in video games, and
(iv) that, on 20 April 2018, the Belgium Gaming Commission and the Dutch Gaming Authority ruled that some loot boxes are gambling; and No. 103—26 June 2018 3303

(b) calls on the government, in conjunction with state and territory governments, to investigate the use of loot boxes in video games, whether they constitute gambling, and whether they are appropriate for younger audiences. (general business notice of motion no. 910)

The full release from the Australian Greens can be found below.

The Senate has supported an Australian Greens motion calling for an urgent investigation into the use of ‘loot boxes’ in video games.

The Senate will tomorrow consider a motion for the issue of ‘loot boxes’ to be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for investigation.

Australian Greens Video Games spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said he had been calling for the government to take action on loot boxes since he first joined the Senate and was glad they had finally come on board.

“I have significant concerns about the adequacy of current consumer protection and regulatory frameworks for monetised game mechanics, particularly when we know they are accessible to children,” Senator Steele-John said.

“An incredible number of popular big name titles incorporate these kinds of monetised game mechanics, not as a way of improving in-game experience, but as a way of simply prying more money off of their players.

“We know game developers hate them, we know players hate them because they have a negative impact on the game experience, and we know that they urgently need regulation.

“The impact of gambling on people’s lives is such that we cannot afford to stay silent on this issue, and it is fantastic both the government and the opposition are supporting the Greens on this issue.”

A paper published last week in ‘Nature: Human Behaviour’ journal entitled 'Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling' found loot boxes in video games appear to meet both the psychological and legal definitions of gambling.

The Interactive Games Entertainment Association, which represents the video games industry in Canberra, told Kotaku that they did not believe loot boxes constituted gambling and they looked forward to presenting a submission on behalf of the industry:

IGEA understands that the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee will be investigating the topic of loot boxes in video games. We have been working with the government on this issue for some time now, and it is our belief that these in-game transactions do not constitute gambling. We are yet to see the terms of reference for the inquiry, but as always we look forward to participating in the process and providing a submission on behalf of our membership.


Comments

    What a waste of time and money. Just make a decision based on studies that have already been conducted by western countries and be done with it.

      Oh come on, you know we can't trust people that aren't "our" people.

      Now, let's talk about a committee to look into the possibility of organising a meeting about creating a fact finding group for a commission to look at the potential of those there video computer games.

        First order of business, the horrific state of the biscuits in the tea room. That this issue has not yet been resolved is a travesty of natural justice. I propose we immediately suspend all matters currently tabled and devote all resources as necessary to ensure the members of this committee can appropriately exercise their obligations to their constituents, starting with a comprehensive inquiry into the current state of biscuit acquisition. We estimate this will take approximately two months. All in favour?

        *deafening cheering and applause*

      Unfortunately that's not how government works, there are too many people for them to make a simple decision... so they need to form a group, to make a decision, then submit that decision as a policy/bill so then the rest of the group can vote on it.

      What a waste of time and money. Just make a decision based on studies that have already been conducted by western countries and be done with it.

      Which ones? And which conclusions? Some studies have come out saying it's not gambling, some have come out saying it is. Some have said that it's only gambling in certain circumstances, or that it is gambling but given certain safeguards they don't need to be regulated quite as heavily.

      Even if you decide to just follow the judgement of existing studies, you still need to issue an investigation to decide how you interpret the existing studies and how best they'd apply to the legal framework in Australia

        That legal framework angle is something most people don't understand, or just dismiss as irrelevant. Its not. Every country has a different definition of what gambling is, and what problem gambling is, and its because of that you need every country to make this decision for themselves.

        Logic and reasoning is going to be very similar from country to country, but the conclusions can be vastly different, as you point out. Whats defined as gambling here is different in every country, and whats defined as a problem is also going to change from country to country.

        I keep using Destiny 2's eververse boxes as an example. By any basic measure, its gambling. But is it what they're trying to get rid of? Theres no direct advantage outside of social status, but under some laws that's going to be enough of an advantage. And its those sorts of variations that mean every country needs to make this decision for themselves.

        They can use the reasoning and logic from those studies, but the conclusions need to be based on our laws, not the laws of where ever those studies were done.

        Good points.

        I think they need to be careful too about what actually constitutes a loot box, and how much impact it has on gamers. Is a loot drop in game the same as a box you pay for? Is it a problem if the loot box has a limited amount of drops that are all reasonable probability? Is it enough to just list the actual probability of drops within the box so gamers understand the real chance of getting an item? Are loot box drops more/less worse if they're sellable? And so on...

        So whatever legislation gets created needs to take that into account.

        Oh and of course, they need to consider whether there's a difference between loot boxes being in a kids game, a teens game or an adult game. I think there should be different rules based on age. After all, if you extrapolate to say poker machines adults are able to choose to pay and play them where kids aren't.

      Laws and attitudes relating to what is and is not gambling vary between countries. You can't just use their data, you need your own.

    I am somewhat concerned about the outcome of this vote. I don't like lootboxes, but I also don't trust our government to actually do anything sensible with regard to videogames. Doesn't seem like there's a win in there for gamers either way.

      The government can't do anything tomorrow bar asking a committee to look into it, basically. Nothing will change legally from tomorrow's vote.

        The problem is the jurisdiction any decision they make will fall under...
        if its gambling, its Department of Communications and Arts (Interactive Gambling Act)
        if its a matter of classifying lootboxes, its the Australian Classification Board.
        if its a consumer protection, then its the ACCC

        With either one of those three, each has their own powers and limitations, so any decision would involve either them not having power to act, or being granted more power to act... and thats a hell of a vote to sway throught government.

          I had a very similar discussion with someone not that long ago. Airing any gaming content on television, for instance, is an even larger minefield. And then the broadcast rules all change if it's on Twitch. It's a clusterfuck, put simply.

    The study will most likely agree with what others have already said. Loot boxes can stay, but they need to add a disclaimer based on the difficulty to obtain items in their terms of service.

      Or they could do what some European countries are saying and that lootboxes being gambling means the game will get an automatic Adults Only rating unless they're removed.

        Except our gambling laws are not designed to stop gambling, they are designed to protect local gambling industry... saying computer games are gambling would mean large changers to the regulations, so they may as well just write a better seperate law. Like a microtransaction policy.

        I like this approach. A 10 year old kid getting addicted to gambling on loot boxes doesn't care what's written in the terms of service.

          And it's not as if parents pay much attention to ratings. Looking at you, those who let their 8-year old kids watch Rick and Morty!

            They don't care for PG, M or even MA but a big black "R" rating on a game is usually enough to cause pause

              Tell that to the parents of all the kids I hear talking incessantly when playing GTAV online.

                I love the parents that buy their kids GTA V, then complain about it being too violent for their precious 11 year old.

                  Add the parents letting 8-10 year old watch Deadpool in the theatres 0_o

                  There seems to be a lot of parents who either don't care or seem to expect someone else to do their work for them :(

              I had a f---ing year one student tell me once that his dad was buying him GTA5. I asked him (the kid) if he knew it was an adult only game and he said "Yes, that's why dad has to be the one to buy it."

              If I wasn't just a relief teacher I would have sat the parent that collected him down and read out every explicit act that takes place, asking of they really want to let their kid see that.

          Since when does that automatically go AO? On of the mainline Mario games on 3DS had 'gambling elements' but was something like PG or 8+.

            I think it's more to do with real money being exchanged because that creates a system where it's in the companys best interest to exploit the user base for greater profit.

            It's when the game involves cash transactions, Mario has gambling elements (I think it's the casino levels mainly) and references gambling, but it doesn't have a real money gambling mechanic.

              SMB 3 has a randomised reward at the end of every level. Is that gambling? What about Crossy Road?

              I don't think so, but eventually some wowser will argue that its teaching the kids gambling habits through the psychology, and for that reason should be banned.

              That's one of the problems here. There is the money side, and the psychology side. The psychology angle is what creates the addiction, not the money side. But its the money side people focus on, because that's where you feel it mostly.

              As soon as you focus on the psychology side though, its a can of worms that cuts through a LOT of games most wouldn't think are the problem.

              At that point, tossing all these games into AO categories completely dilutes the effect of that rating. We're back at square one.

                I think the very term gambling requires an element of cost or loss. Whereas getting one of three possible rewards is just chance or luck. Gambling is monetising luck.

                The psychology is complex, since it's got different elements like encouraging behaviour for reward and also the fundamental logic flaws of many gamblers.

                I'm not sure that you could legislate against luck in games since it's so fundamental to so many games. So I'd assume they'll just focus on the money side.

                  Thats what makes this so tricky. Wheres the line? It gets very blurry very fast and you dont need to go too far down that rabbit hole before you find games that will split people.

                  This is why we have a process that bans We Happy Few as the default position. Gambling = bad, Witcher 3 has gambling, therefore Witcher 3 = bad. Does any person here think Gwent betting is going to lead to them lose their house at the casino?

                  I just worry that the issue isnt laid out clear enough. Some forms of gambling in games are perfectly fine, but everyone has a different view on where that line is. Some what just pay to win to be stopped, others want to think of the children and ban all gambling, and all things that suggest gambling.

                  Somewhere in the middle is the right answer, but games we dont expect to be a problem ARE going to get caught up if they make rules on it. Bet on it.

                  @grunt: Replies have got too deep...

                  I agree that the answer is somewhere in the middle. My personal take is that the moment real money gets involved it's gambling that should be regulated. Take the Gwent example, it's in game using gold you've earned in the game. You never get a "hey you've run out of gold give us your credit card details to buy more" type message so I'm fine with it. *

                  On the other hand, games where you are repeatedly asked to spend real money on items need some controls. It's too easy to lose large amounts of real money that way.

                  * While you could argue that the inclusion of a gambling game in Witcher 3 educates people about gambling and makes them more liable to gamble with real money outside of the game I don't think the argument can hold up. The reason: look at all the gambling advertising attached to sport now. When you have sportsbet, ladbrokes and about three other companies not just advertising but being a part of the commentary crew for football and cricket it's too deeply embedded in our culture.

                  @scrybe all good, its a good convo.

                  The Witcher example was just a silly one to show how we get to decisions like We Happy Few. As a public servant, I can see how inevitable that was. Good intentions end up warped into silly decisions, and you end up with games being penalised that arent doing what the rules are trying to stop.

                  You can use Battlefield 2 and Destiny 2 though, its just as good. One got all the hate, one got none, but both have lootboxes you buy with real money. The main difference I saw was that BF2 preyed on the psychology more by making you WANT what was in the boxes. D2 gave numerous other ways to get the rewards, so the desire to buy them wasnt as great.

                  How do you stop one and not the other? D2 was lootboxes done right, but the fact theres money involved is enough to piss some people off regardless.

                  Heck most online games now (many are built on it to some degree). I've spent the past couple of weeks running for crypto to spend on rare crates in BO3 for the M14. It's a limited time event weapon so you know people have spent money for COD points just to have a chance of getting it.

                  @grunt I wasn't disparaging the Witcher comment BTW. I get what you're saying - it could be interpreted by some as gambling. I just see it being treated like gambling in movies or on TV since it's not actually requiring money.

                  That's not to say that some crazy politician won't try to round it up in the same loot box purge. If they do though, it'll be interesting to follow the knock on effect in other media. Like seeing every major sporting event lose all betting company advertising or having to suddenly be rated 18+ :)

                  Having dealt with legislation in the QLD Govt myself I can understand some of the problems. We had a team whose job was exclusively to write legislation. And a big part of that was spending time looking for flaws and loopholes and removing them before the legislation was released. Unfortunately, sometimes the intent and the literal meaning in the legislation ended up at odds. Then we'd play catch up rewriting it so it did what we *actually* wanted it to.

    It’ll come down to if the Government gets a cut of every dollar spent on Lootboxes. If they do via GST, then they’ll be considered as ok and not a gambling tool. If they don’t get a cut, then it’ll pass because the Government doesn’t care anyway

      You realise that the Government already makes GST off the sales right? Go buy some Coins for Overwatch or Silver for Destiny on the PS or Microsoft store and BAM the Gov has made 10% GST. Despite this, the Government is in agreement with an enquiry which if the recommendation is they are banned and they are then banned it will lose them GST. Take your tinfoil hat off.

    This seems too late as the backlash has already stopped most future game devs considering lootboxes though I am curious what continuing talk like this will do to big devs like Blizzard who still use lootboxes without any sign of change on the way.

      I disagree. I think the backlash has stopped developers from having non-cosmetic lootboxes for a little while. I think cosmetic lootboxes are still going to be a thing (which sucks), and moving forward different games will try to implement non-cosmetic lootboxes now and then.

        I'm with you. I suspect the developers/publishers are simply regrouping and trying to figure out a way to make the money without being nailed.

        Nope, just spent two weeks in BO3 getting crypto for rare loot boxes. The M14 is an LTE weapon only available in the rares (so 30 crypto [earned playing] or 200 COD points [paid for outside rare events] per chance after the daily double). Hasn't stopped it, and the M14 is a nice competitive weapon not merely a cosmetic alternative to a regularly available piece. Hell my preferred ranged weapons are both LB exclusives.

      You're only considering AAA releases....this also heavily impacts mobile games which are much more ruthless in trying to pry cash out of people and go full pay to win. Look at Jurassic World Alive that was released less than a month ago. You can buy "incubators" with real cash that give you random different dinos. They're often high powered (they guarantee a certain amount of "epic" dinosaurs) but the range of the top ones still varies from the top must have dinos to throw away ones that leave you wishing you hadn't spent cash.

      Essentially it's pay to win loot boxes...if it wasn't a free to play mobile game there'd be a huge outroar.

      Last edited 28/06/18 9:09 am

        That's true, there's also the horde of japanese gasha games (I was sucked into one myself for a while) that are totally just gambling to get pretty pictures. I guess the cynic in me doesn't see those types of games ever changing regardless of what Australian inquiries say but I'd love to be wrong about that.

        Good point. These absolutely need to be the subject of an inquiry (maybe a separate one). I remember an article where they were talking about a popular mobile game where in order to get the powerful units it'd cost something like $17,000 or literally decades if you tried to do the same free-to-play.

    In other news, $2 lucky dip lolly bags have been banned from all corner delis. An 8 year old child from Wallaroo has written several complaint letters to parliament after forking out his 2 weeks allowance of $20 and only receiving one red lolly from 10 bags.
    "One bag actually had 3 milk bottles and no red lollies!" remarked the child who wishes to remain anonymous.

      No comparison and to bring this up is ignorant.

      The value of the contents of a lucky dip is always the same.

      The value of the contents of a loot box is not.

      Toy stores or whoever don’t make a user choose between wasting their life on purposefully extended grinds or dropping a few bucks for the chance of reward to progress at a reasonable rate.

      Might be too difficult a concept for you to understand though.

        I was more making a remark about growing up unfortunately will involve some form of gambling eventually. I have absolutely no problem with loot boxes being 18+ just like other forms of gambling. I'd also like to know where these kids are getting their money from for loot boxes and why parents arent getting involved but that's where a warning on a box may help. The difficult concept of a $2 lolly bag being similar to actually gambling is a lot for my brain obviously, but my ignorance sometimes gets in the way of dropping a lighter comment in the message boards

          Humour doesn't always translate well. Your first comment read more like you believe loot boxes are fine and trivialised the problem. When we're talking about games that are pulling literally hundreds if not thousands of dollars out of people it's a vastly different thing.

          I understand your point about kids being exposed to gambling at some point. But a $2 lolly bag is much better way to educate kids about the realities of gaming than lootboxes that can consume hundreds of dollars.

          Depending on the game it could have automatic payments enabled (think mobile games). And yeah parents should definitely be paying more attention to stuff like that, but not all of them do. And I think part of the reason behind this whole thing is parents have been slugged with huge bills because their kids have effectively gambled away hundreds of dollars before the parents realised what was going on.

            Fair response, my humor doesn't translate on most occasions. I was definitely trying to be funny more than make a political statement. Disclaimer for the future: if you see my user name I'm probably taking the piss.

        What about a pack of footy cards? Or buying a new booster pack for Magic The Gathering?

          They're actually every bit as bad. I remember the WoW TCG packs that included rare in game stuff like the Spectral Tiger. People (myself included) spent way too much money buying them trying to jag the rares.

          About the only good thing about them was they published the rarity information so you could at least do some calculations about the realistic chance you have of getting rares.

        It was obviously a joke not a dick. Don't take it so hard.

      2 weeks allowance of $20? Spoilt little shit. I was lucky to get $5 a week back at that age

        I'm showing my age, but as a little kid I'd get 20c.

          Technically I started at $2 in 20c pieces then working to $5 which I could trade for a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic book each month.

            That's inflation for you. My 20c would still buy a nice little bag of lollies and if I saved it I could buy comics for between 50c and a dollar, and the dollar ones were those "80 page giants" they used to print.

            Oh to have those prices back again...

    You can make all the glib comments about lucky dip bags and gacha machines you want

    But none of it refutes whats been said

    "“An incredible number of popular big name titles incorporate these kinds of monetised game mechanics, not as a way of improving in-game experience, but as a way of simply prying more money off of their players.

    “We know game developers hate them, we know players hate them because they have a negative impact on the game experience, and we know that they urgently need regulation.""

    This one single quote gives me hope:

    ...an incredible number of popular big name titles incorporate these kinds of monetised game mechanics, not as a way of improving in-game experience, but as a way of simply prying more money off of their players...

    I didn’t who that Steele-John senator is, but he’s succinctly identified the problem in a single sentence.

      The question is though....

      "Do companies make games to enrich the lives of their customers/players? do they make games to make
      money?".

      If it is the latter, which i suspect it is, isnt the whole idea for the company being to get maximum return on investment?

      And if so, i suspect there isnt much a government could do about that.

        Sure, but what's the purpose of gambling? Surely gambling companies exist to make money, too, right? So why do we regulate it?

        We've drawn a line somewhere. And I'd say a big part of where that line has been drawn for games comes down to the fact that it is advertised, and understood from historical context that the primary purpose of playing games is for the entertainment of the in-game experience, rather than the thrill of potentially winning/losing money.

        If the purpose behind running a game shifts from offering a complete entertainment experience to a monetary risk, maybe it should be considered gambling?

      Young guy, with a disability. I’m not a greens supporter, but he definitely brings a different perspective to the usual “unrepresentative swill” of the Senate. I’m amazed the term “loot box” has even made it into the Hansard of our otherwise dull, insular parliament.

    They're. Not. Gambling.

    Gambling involves a risk of loss.

    There is no such risk with loot boxes. You are guaranteed to always get something from them.

    Just because it might not be the thing you want doesn't make them gambling. It just makes them random.

      Nah, if that was the ONLY definition, pokies could avoid regulation by spitting out an m&M or some kind of redeemable token on every pull.

      The countries which have defined loot boxes as gambling explicitly stated in several circumstances that just because you always get 'something' does not exempt them because in many cases, that 'something' is of such trivial, minor value that it is to all intents and purposes as useful or as valued as receiving nothing at all.

        Considering how modern pokies work they'd just pay 1c every push if that definition was the go. Most of the time you're spending 50c (or more) per push. So already most "wins" on pokies are actually just smaller losses. It's not "ooh I won 45c push" it's "oh I only lost 5c that push".

      Yeah I agree much to the dismay of all my gaming friends. I just can't see it as gambling, collectable cards, ccgs, hell even those sticker packs, have never been labelled as gambling and are essentially the same thing as loot boxes. You buy a pack/box with a chance of getting rare cards/items.

        There's actually a lot of debate about whether TCGs (or CCGs) are considered gambling. Just google it, you'll find a ton of articles.

        I think though, the biggest difference is TCGs (and the other stuff you mentioned) have traditionally been physical items requiring a physical purchase. With games being digital and often having all the purchasing and delivery being electronic and embedded within the game it's a lot easier to spend money without realising.

      I agree, they're much more similar to a completely legal shopping centre/arcade lucky dip machines.

      Gambling: take risky action in the hope of a desired result.
      Risk: $ for a 'Legendary skin' at 0.5%
      Desired Result: 'Legendary skin'
      Actual Result: high chance(50%) common skin
      = Gambling.
      Gambling does not necessarily involve a risk of loss, just a risk.

        Exactly, and Australian law limits poker machine losses somewhat with the requirement of 80% return, of course individuals rarely get to see a big win but someone else on the network scores.

    aaawwww yaaaaa...can wait for the downfall of EA.

    The Australian government has a habit of over stepping all they need to do is make games with purchaseable mirotransations carry a 15+ label and a warning sticker.

    If this is considered gambling, why weren't Pokemon Cards or Yu-Gi-Oh cards or every other form of trading cards for that matter considered the same?

    It's sort of digital gambling, they really need to set regulations on it non the less. In saying that, I think loot boxes ultimately undermine a game because instead of releasing content they release these loot box features which shortens lifespan of games, on top of also ruining gameplay experiences for those who don't want to partake in such activities.

    I.E. Making the game extremely difficult to process in any reasonable amount of time.

    I find it interesting that this is happening at the same time as the review into We Happy Few.
    On the one hand, people are saying "Hey politicians, stop interfering with our games" and on the other people are saying "Hey politicians, you need to interfere with our games".

      Pure nonsense. It's entirely about context.

      There's a huge difference between demanding that the R18 classification actually allow adults to see adult content in line with the cassification for movies, vs open slather, kiddie porn and gambling for all.

      Complaining about overreach where inappropriate is in no way at all contradictory to complaining about lack of intervention where appropriate.

        It's pure nonsense that I find something interesting? My mistake, I could have sworn I did find it interesting, but I guess I was wrong and I don't find it interesting at all.

          They're unrelated things, that's why he's saying it's pure nonsense.

          If the scenario was people defending lootboxes in one game and vilifying them in another then I'd agree with you.

    I watched some dude put three bucks into a "deal or no deal" game in Tunza Fun the other day. At the end of his game he walked away with 15 Tunza Fun tokens. That was enough to buy one orange sherbet or half a redskin/milko. Just a random, semi-related observation.

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