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:
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.
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.
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".
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—
(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.