Federal Inquiry Calls For Restrictions On Loot Boxes

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Federal Inquiry Calls For Restrictions On Loot Boxes

A federal government committee into “Protecting the Age of Innocence” this week recommended mandatory online age verification for Australians looking to access porn. That’s inflammatory enough, but there’s an interesting suggestion buried towards the end of the report about loot boxes.

Most of the headlines around the ‘Protecting the Age of Innocence’ committee have been around porn and age verification, but the committee were also tasked with investigating age verification for online gambling or wagering as well. As part of that, the committee retread ground covered by the microtransactions inquiry last year, which included concerns over loot boxes.

Gambling or simulated gambling in video games does not fall within the definition of wagering under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, as outlined in paragraph 4.15. These matters therefore fall outside the scope of the present inquiry.

Nevertheless, the Committee noted that in the UK there have been calls for the regulation of betting features known as ‘loot boxes’ and ‘skins’ that feature in some video games. In particular, there is concern:

… at how firmly embedded gambling-type features are in many of these games. The rise of loot boxes and skin betting have seen young people introduced to the same mechanisms that underpin gambling, through an industry that operates unchecked and unregulated on the back alleys of the internet, which young people can access from their bedrooms.

What’s interesting is that loot boxes and this aspect of “gaming” – that’s gambling within video games and lotteries, according to the local legal definition – wasn’t part of the committee’s terms of reference. Nonetheless, enough evidence was submitted to the inquiry that they noted “the potential for loot boxes to act as a gateway to problem gambling and associated harms later in life”.

While gaming is not captured by the definition of wagering under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 and was therefore outside the scope of the inquiry, in the course of the inquiry it came to the Committee’s attention that there is concern in the community about children and young people being exposed to simulated gambling through ‘loot boxes’ in video games.

The Committee shares this concern, and notes the potential for loot boxes to act as a gateway to problem gambling and associated harms later in life.

Given their resemblance to gambling, the Committee considers that loot boxes and other simulated gambling elements in video games should be subject to appropriate age restrictions, including through the use of mandatory age verification.

The mandatory age verification requirements would work alongside “existing identity verification” procedures, although there’s no word on how this would functionally work for video games as of yet. The government added that more education should be done for parents around kids’ exposure to simulated gambling through video games:

The Committee expects that these educational resources would also seek to raise awareness among parents of the potential for children and young people to be exposed to simulated gambling through video games.

A key difference with this committee is that it’s largely supported by the government and Labor, although Labor noted in their comments that the local video game industry and their lobbyists, IGEA, weren’t given the opportunity to provide evidence to the inquiry. “Labor members of the Committee note that any work on options to restrict access to elements of computer and video games should be done in consultation with industry and done with reference to the classification scheme,” Labor’s members of the inquiry wrote.

That said, they’re not opposing it either. And even though the microtransactions inquiry largely kicked the ball down the road, and the government opted not to impose any of the recommendations from the inquiry’s chair, Senator Jordon-Steele John, or suggestions from state attorneys-general and state gambling regulators, it seems like there’s still appetite for regulating loot boxes.

The Government's Response To The Loot Box Inquiry: ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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.

Read more

As per the fifth recommendation of the report, either the Office of the eSafety Commissioner or “other relevant government department” has been recommended to supply “options for restricting access” to loot boxes and other simulated gambling elements in video games. Given that the Classification Board and its overarching department is currently reviewing the classification guidelines, it’s likely that any recommendations will form a part of that review, which is due in a couple of months.

Comments

  • Online age verification… Ah yes, a flawless idea that can never be bypassed or flat out ignored.

    Do the people on this committee even know what the internet is?

    • Age verification would work on a paid account or digital store front like Steam, Apple, Google Play, PlayStation, Microsoft, Blizzard, EA, Uplay etc. so it would work to curb the parasite of loot boxes once the lawsuits (EA very litigious) stopped.

      It wouldn’t work for stuff that is free as you could just VPN. So it w not stop most adult content or piracy.

  • Chancellor Dutton’s been pushing the facial identification for porn access wagon for ages now, just another small part of his raging mass surveillance boner.

  • Far be it from me to stand in the way of burning loot boxes entirely to the ground, but I can’t help but think that the government will probably have to do a better job of distinguishing ‘betting features’ known as ‘loot boxes’ and ‘skins’ when they do.

    • I am also sure it will somehow be cocked up hard, because old people struggle to understand the digital age.

    • Frankly, if we end up with a situation where boxes containing skins are restricted and publishers are forced to just… sell us the skins directly or – GOD FORBID – include them in the base price of the game? I’d see that as a win.

  • It makes me wish to see the return of video games regulated under the Gambling Act like they were when arcades were big during the 1980’s and 1990’s era.

    Anyone remember those stickers on arcade machines?

  • Be interesting if this takes off and how it will be implemented.

    What I am curious is the ratings. Will they change the rating to keep the micro-transactions or just remove them from games below the rating system, since it means games that are normally G or PG (sport games a big one) could get a mature rating due to gambling references.

    It’s what caught out Pokemon back in the day and why the Game Corners were phased out, even in remakes.

    Be curious if restricting the title to audiences is worth the loot boxes, at least in Australia. I know where loot boxes are banned, they (IIRC) removed them for other revenue methods. Might get an Australian version of the game but with loot boxes removed to keep the lower rating (a dream most likely but its such a small market and its hard to swallow selling Fifa was an M or MA rating game, depending on what gets the gambling rating)

    That’s all if this means changing the rating, and only applies to a small majority of games (but some being big money pits)

  • Somebody please livestream the videogame part of that inquiry. The unintentional comedy would echo down through the ages.

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