The Australian Government Wants Harsher Ratings For Loot Boxes

The Australian Government Wants Harsher Ratings For Loot Boxes

Today, the Albanese Government proposed a whole bunch of changes to its National Classification Scheme in hopes of slapping games containing simulated gambling and/or loot boxes right in the face. Yeowch!

A press release from the Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland announced that the Commonwealth will be seeking the agreement of States and Territories to “introduce a mandatory minimum classification of R 18+ (Restricted to 18 and over) for games which contain simulated gambling and M (Mature – not recommended for persons under 15 years) for computer games containing paid loot boxes.”

This comes after a 2020 review of the Australian classification regulation, which was released today (and yes, it’s that one), argued that the current state of Australia’s classification system for video games is essentially still living in the past, as the original Classification Scheme was put into place over 20 years ago when online marketplaces and digital purchases were not really a huge part of gaming.

The review specifically recommends that video games “which exclusively involve simulated gambling” should be classified MA 15+ “at minimum,” while clarifying that “all games with interactive features that meet the definition of simulated gambling should be given the consumer advice of ‘simulated gambling’”. The government, if the press release is to be believed, is looking to put a minimum R18+ rating on seemingly any game that “contains simulated gambling.”

Moving onto loot boxes, the review’s recommendations include consumer advice specifying the presence of in-game purchases as well as whether or not they are “linked to elements of chance”. Further, it recommends that “games featuring loot boxes that can be purchased should be rated PG at a minimum”. The government, per its press release, is proposing a minimum M15+ rating for any games containing paid loot boxes.

Last year, the former Morrison government stated that it would be looking to revamp Australia’s classification code when it came to video game ratings for the exact same reason, so it’s really no surprise that Labor is putting these proposals ahead. If it was something that the Liberal government wanted to put forward as well, one would expect it to make its way into law without much back and forth. Of course, politics being politics, people may change their minds.

So where has this come from, then? Well, it could perhaps be the conclusions drawn from multiple research studies, including one from the School of Psychology at Massey University in New Zealand and the University of Tasmania in Hobart, another out of CQUniversity Australia’s Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory, and even one most recently out of the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ Gambling Research Centre, pretty much all confirming that loot boxes and problem gambling are intrinsically linked. Mix that with young kids and their parents’ credit cards, and you’ve got a recipe for creating little addicts, baby!

In terms of what the effect of these proposed changes would look like, it means that games like FIFA, which have long been rated G for all audiences, would have to reclassified under the M15+ rating. Sure, for a game with FIFA‘s global reach, this would throw a spanner in the works, but it’s not the first time its loot boxes have gotten it in trouble. Just three weeks ago, an Austrian court ruled that FIFA‘s loot boxes violated their national gambling laws.

But can loot boxes be considered gambling in Australia? Well, they certainly were by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) back in 2017. In correspondence with a Victorian university student, a strategic analyst in the Victorian regulators’ compliance division stated that “what occurs with “loot boxes” does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian Legislation,” but that “legislation has not moved as quick as the technology” and that Federal and State bodies at the time were “not necessarily equipped to determine the legality of these practices in lieu of the fact the entities responsible are overseas.” Since then, it looks like both NSW and Victoria have been pushing for more regulation.

However, it does look like the times are changing, and government bodies are catching up with the evolving technologies in the gaming world. The Australian government’s newly-proposed approach to loot boxes and simulated gambling seems akin to independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s proposal back in 2022, rather than anything like the hardcore restrictions of countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.

For now, it’s still up in the air, and the proposals are yet to be accepted. In order for them to go through, all Attorneys-General of Australia’s states and territories will need to agree to the proposal. The 2020 review also discusses multiple other aspects of the classification system, including the Australian Classification Board’s strict stance on drugs in games, but that doesn’t look like a priority and could potentially be grouped into the “broader classification reforms” that are mentioned in the press release.

What are your thoughts on this? If I’m completely honest, I think that kids’ brains aren’t equipped to know when to stop buying loot boxes. Anything to get kids away from falling into any kind of addiction seems like a good thing. When I was a kid, I was using my home phone to buy credits in an online game, thinking my parents wouldn’t find out. To a child, it seems like nothing!

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