The Senate’s cross-party inquiry into loot boxes delivered their findings late last year. Late last night, the Coalition government finally tabled their response.
The gaming micro-transactions for chance based items inquiry received plenty of inquiries from state government, statutory federal bodies, concerned Australians and the gaming industry at large. But after a split amongst its members, the majority recommendation from the inquiry was that the Australian Government ask the Department of Communications and Arts to lead another review into loot boxes specifically, with the Department of Social Services, Office of the e-Safety Commissioner, Classification Board, ACCC and ACMA all taking part.
The Australian Greens – who chaired the inquiry through Senator Jordon Steele-John – offered five dissenting suggestions that went much further. Some of those suggestions aligned with the views of state government and regulatory bodies, including the addition of loot boxes in some form to the current classification system, as well as the joint development of a consumer protection framework with community groups and the video game industry.
Those recommendations, however, are just that: recommendations. And even the consensus view of the review can be ignored at will, which is more or less what the government has opted to do in their response:
The government response goes on to say that while gambling is a “serious public health concern”, they pointed back to the committee’s admission that “research on gambling-related harms experience as a result of loot boxes in games” isn’t far enough advanced to warrant any legislative changes.
The committee’s sole unanimous recommendation of a formal departmental review into loot boxes was also rejected out of hand, with the government saying that the Department of Communications and the Arts would continue looking into the matter nonetheless:
While the Australian Government considers that a formal departmental review of loot boxes in video games immediately after the inquiry is not warranted at this point in time, the Department of Communications and the Arts will continue to examine regulatory frameworks, working with other Australian Government agencies. As part of this, it will monitor academic research and consider the need for further research; continue conversations with international counterparts and industry; gather further views from public interest groups; and monitor changes in the video game industry as game developers’ monetisation strategies evolve.
It will also consult with the Department of Social Services with respect to potential harm minimisation measures applicable to gaming micro-transactions for chance-based items, as well as any linkages to the National Consumer Protection Framework for on line wagering announced in November 2018.
It’s a bit of a catch-22: the government notes that there’s community concern, but won’t enable the department to launch a formal review and says that there’s not enough research to warrant moving forward. But the government also isn’t making any moves to assist or boost that research in any way, which means the status quo will continue.
The government did add that the Classification Board has updated their website with the results of a survey into loot boxes and simulated gambling. That survey is part of a larger report commissioned from Whereto Research Based Consulting, which was also uploaded to the research documents portal on the Classification Board website.
The conclusion from that research, which can be read here, found that most of those surveyed believed that loot boxes that could be paid for with real money, or traded to earn real money, should be restricted to gamers aged 18 or older:
Microtransactions and loot boxes are a hot topic within the gaming community. In this project, participants felt that loot boxes containing items that confer in-game advantages did not constitute harmful gambling activity, so long as they: could not be purchased with real-world money, or be traded either within or outside the game for real money. Loot boxes that can be purchased using real-world currency or traded for real currency equivalent were deemed by most to be gambling activity that should be restricted to those over 18
years of age.
Simulated gambling games that include or focus on a direct simulation of casino games were seen as potentially harmful for children and young people. There was a fear that exposure to this type of gaming would normalise habitual poker-machine playing and lower the barrier to potentially harmful gambling behaviours later in life. However, participants emphasised a need for education around the potential harms of simulated gambling for young people and parents as well as restricting this kind of material to those
legally allowed to gamble.
The commissioned research also covered community attitudes into gaming classification more broadly, finding that parents were “not necessarily aware of the range of socially sensitive material that computer games can include” and operated on the assumption that “all games are designed for young people”. It also found that depictions of domestic violence in video games (a scene from Detroit: Become Human is referenced) were more problematic than high impact or violent themes, like those found in Counter-Strike or Fortnite.