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 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.