Physical Games Now Require ‘In-Game Purchase’ Disclosures In Australia [Updated]

32
Physical Games Now Require ‘In-Game Purchase’ Disclosures In Australia [Updated]

Physical video games with in-game purchases will now need to be labelled as such under new changes to the Australian Classification system. The new labels will appear on boxed copies of games, with the phrasing “in-game purchases” added to ratings label for games housing any kind of microtransaction-based system. Notably, these labels will be attached to a number of upcoming titles including The Avengers and FIFA 21.

This new addition to the ratings system was first spotted by Reddit user BeforeJam, who noted the labelling changes had yet to be officially announced or confirmed by the Australian Classification Board. While not formally announced, these “in-game purchase” rating labels can already be seen on the public Classifications website.

The change comes after ongoing, global backlash against microtransactions including multiple government-led inquiries as well as a recent report for the NSW Government Responsible Gambling Fund identifying a key link between a desire to purchase loot boxes and developing a problem gambling habit.

Loot boxes have, in the past, been labelled ‘predatory’, ‘problematic’ and ‘harmful’ for their relation to gambling and for exposing young children to addictive reward-based systems. As highlighted in the CQUniversity report to the NSW Government, a strong link between current use of loot boxes and current gambling existed, with young people acknowledging and internalising their addictive nature. The prevalence of loot boxes in gaming means adolescents and young adults are more likely to be exposed to harmful gambling habits from an earlier age.

The new labels are an attempt to steer away from these habits, as well as alert parents of the content they’re purchasing for their kids.

Here’s what they’ll look like:

While most microtransactions in games are purely cosmetic, they are designed to be highly addictive and actively encourage larger purchases. With AAA video games increasingly needing bigger budgets to keep games running (and with microtransactions being incredibly profitable), it’s likely they’ll be a part of video games long into the future. They’re something we’ll have to live with.

These new classification labels will go a long way towards curbing gambling behaviours in young people while highlighting the exact contents and nature of games being purchased. Whether the Australian Government will take further steps towards reducing the appeal of microtransactions in games is currently unknown.

Look out for the new labels when you next head out to buy the latest games.

Update 19/08 12:40pm: The Australian Classification Board have clarified to Kotaku Australia this change came into place in August 2019. It means all future applicants applying for classification will need to disclose details on whether their game contains in-game purchases and what exactly this consists of (such as purchase of credits, objects, randomised content and transacting real world money).

Comments

  • This has come up multiple tiomes before.

    You say that “While most microtransactions in games are purely cosmetic, they are designed to be highly addictive and actively encourage larger purchases.

    While the second half of the sentence is absolutely true, it’s not at all true to say that most microtransactions in games are purely cosmetic. The vast majority of microtransactions offer clear gameplay benefits and additional playing content. From Horse Armor and similar micro content such as extra heroes and maps, to skipping roadblocks such as cooldown timers, to core gameplay cards (Hearthstone, etc.) to weapons with actual stat differences (including TF2), to actual P2W content, only a tiny fraction of microtransactions are in fact “purely cosmetic”.

    And sure, in most of these cases there are workarounds for getting the same thing, particularly if you’re committed and patient enough, but that’s not at all the same thing as them being “purely cosmetic”.

    Kotaku really needs to stop perpetuating this false myth, which Leah in particular has stated on multiple occasions.

    • Have any studies been done on this? A huge amount of skins get sold, so its not simply enough to just state “ast majority of microtransactions offer clear gameplay benefits” without evidence.

      I’m not saying your wrong, but to me I see skins being a massive part of the in-game purchasing market. Fortnite has been built on it, and by extension the entire EGS ecosystem. Plenty of other big name games have done the same over the years, alongside the more problematic game benefitting sellers. I expect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

      Thats not to say that booster packs etc arent a big seller either, but as a percentage of the market its just as false to claim a “a tiny fraction of microtransactions” are just cosmetic.

      • I don’t have any more ‘studies’ than you do, but we both know that if I did you’d still find something to quibble about with them regardless.

        I’ve given plenty of examples, and could give thousands more. Pretty much the entire mobile gaming market is based on non-skin transactions. The only genre where skins have any significant value is FPS games such as Fortnite. Although let’s not forget that FPS games ALSO include a wide variety of non-skin microtransaction opportunities, in any case.

        FPS games represent only a tiny fraction of the gaming market, particularly if we’re including the mobile gaming market, which we should. Have you ever tried to buy a skin in Candy Crush?

        • I wasnt quibbling, it was a genuine question. But as you’ve taken an aggressive stance, I can list a half dozen games or more off the top of my head that have skins, and they arent small games either. So I see skins as being much bigger than “a tiny fraction”, a term which implies some number like 1% of the market.

          I dont know either but from my experience you’re saying something wrong. If you want to get antsy about it, go ahead. It doesnt change the fact that games like CS:GO, GTA V, Minecraft, Dota 2, Overwatch, LoL, and Rocket League all have skins.

          Toss in a couple of other FPS like the already mentioned Fortnite, and both the Destiny games, and the list gets out to 10 without digging. I’m sure other Blizzard games than Overwatch have skins as well.

          Those arent small games and from my perspective would make up a bigger cut of the market than you seem to recognise.

  • It’d be interesting to know how this will affect games that patch microtransactions in post-release. If this is now part of the classification advice, would the patch require the game to be reclassified? Could retail stores continue selling the game without placing a sticker over the old classification?

    • I would assume the publishers/companies would have pay a fee for a reclass in australia.

      Its not the same as ESRB or PEGI which is a self governed classification system our ratings board is a government classification system if you add something that would alter the original games classification you need to fork out for a reclass.. or it gets refused classification

  • It’s worth pointing out that the Classification Board in this instance is effectively saying that in-game purchases are harmless by giving them a G-rating, meaning that they are “suitable for everyone”.

    • Agreed.

      The government restricts what can be advertised during kids show to stop harmful behaviours. The government should follow suit with games rated as fine for children.

      If it’s rated as fine for children it should not contain microtransactions.

    • That was the first thing I noticed. If it has the ability to sell to children without parental oversight, it cannot be G rated.

  • I disagree with “These new classification labels will go a long way towards curbing gambling behaviours in young people while highlighting the exact contents and nature of games being purchased.”
    Firstly, parents will see the G rating first indicating it is suitable for young children and not pay attention to the additional text. Secondly, it is not easy to deduce that “In-game purchases” relates to loot boxes; the term is so generic it could easily be talking about the Diablo 3 Auction house or paying for DLC.

  • What are we gonna do about the rabid dog problem?

    We could put up a sign that says “WARNING Rabid Dogs”

    Perfect, I think we’ve really earned our taxpayer funded pay today guys, let’s knock off and go have dinner and drinks at the local pub!

    Can’t, there’s rabid dogs outside.

  • The point of a classification system is (or should be) to inform consumers. If parents aren’t reading the labels, they’re the ones behaving irresponsibly, not the ACB. If they read the label and purchase the game anyway, well it is their right as the parent to make that decision.

    Also “in-game purchase” does not automatically mean “randomized lootbox/gambling”. Making purchases, in and of itself isn’t addictive (for most people), gambling is highly addictive. I think there needs to be a separate distinction to indicate when in-app purchases include lootboxes or chance items, similar to how the labels states if a game has “simulated gambling”.

    • People have a point saying anything with in game purchases shouldn’t have a G rating to begin with. In that instance they’re arguing that an incorrect classification is being applied, and incorrect information provided to consumers.

      As the father of 3 young children I can definitely say that whether in game purchases exist will change how I handle that game with my kids. I’ve told my eldest (8yrs old) that anything with a G rating is fine and most things with PG are ok too. He’s a kid, he needs something easy to differentiate whether he can bug me about a game. For me to then turn around and say, oh yeah all G rating are ok except for any with this small print….it complicates things more than they need to be.

      That said I’d likely still let him at least play stuff with in game purchases and just explain it to him. He plays the win 10 version of minecraft after all which has in game purchases and he understands what he cant get without me paying for it.

  • This is nowhere near specific enough. This could range from anywhere from a game having a $30 expansion pack to a $3 cosmetic to actual loot boxes.

  • lol, they can advertise thier money grab all they want, will be ignoring any games that are overpriced and trying to farm money for content.

  • Can I offer a suggestion here.

    Any company (and I’m looking at Activision here) who chooses to release their game without microtransactions, just to release a patch later on with them now in the game, which means they’ve avoided the label on the box (as well as potentially misleading reviewers at the time), will have to have all physical copies of the game recalled at the publishers expense.

    It’s the least they should do.

    • don’t need to recall, but they would need to inform ACB, stores would be required to put new stickers on them (at the publishers expense), and verbally advise the product has changed at purchase.

      And offer full refunds under ACL to anyone for changing the product to a condition unsatisfactory to the customer.

    • Theoretically, every time a game changes it should get re-classified. That means every patch…

      In reality that would be impossible.

      • If a developer or publisher changes content that adds or removes elements that would change the rating, they are required to inform ACB… submitting a change doesn’t mean a new review, but would mean relabelled a product.

        Since in-app purchases is now part of the classification scheme, they would be in breach of ACB guidelines by adding it post-review.

        • The problem is, who makes that call? You cant cover every scenario, and because of that you have a system that can be taken advantage of.

          With in-app purchases, there are also gradients of those purchases ranging from very minor to clearly gambling. Again, who makes that call? Who even gets to call something gambling?

          There is a big difference between EA’s booster packs and something like Destiny 2’s engrams, and people have differing opinions on whether they’re both gambling or not.

          I’m not saying nothing should be done. Far from it. I think this is a great move, and surprisingly well handled. But its not as easy as just slapping a sticker on and expecting everyone to do the right thing.

          Any system has loopholes capable of being exploited. And with billions of dollars involved you better believe people will use those loopholes.

          • Well if we can chuck a huge fuss over non issues like manga/light novels to be reclassified im fairly sure its not too hard to force the issue from the consumers when a publisher stealth adds micro transcations by going on about it in social media

  • NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

    A game with in-app purchases should never be “G” like the example… it should be Parental Guidance recommended “PG”…

    or “M15+” for finacial responsibility of an young adult, akin to debit/credit cards with parental permissions.

    I think it should also come with a “Drink /Gamble Responsibly” style disclosure, that addictive purchasing is a mental health issue.

  • Yeah, I’m with the majority on this one. Super weak. Not going to help solve the problem – if anything, makes the problem harder to solve by pretending to have done something.

  • Suggest everyone should write to ACB.

    A) Asking for Parental Guidance is a minimum requirement for in-app purchases. (as parents should monitor a child’s purchases)

    B) Classification Review copies must include in-app purchases for classification purposes.

    C) Adding in-app purchases to a product after classification requires notification, update of classification label on product, and under Australuan Consumer Law offer full unconditional refunds due to product change.

  • Re: ACB reply.

    Been in use since August 2019… a whole year. I wonder how many games in the last year have been classified by ACB, how many games specify in-app purchase, and if any failed to declare them? Or if you can see when games really started to show in-app purchases.

    Because NBA2K20 didn’t declare in-app purchases it was released September 2019, it got a G rating… but NBA2K21 got a PG rating and “in-app purchases” classification. Maybe the system was slow to roll out.

    • … because some games get reviewed 6 to 9 months before release. I think it should apply retroactively to all active “live service” games.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!