Following the example set by governments in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, an Australian politician has put forward a bill that would, if passed into law, massively restrict the use of loot boxes in video games aimed at children.
Federal politician Andrew Wilkie, an independent, introduced the bill into parliament yesterday. He proposes that loot box mechanics—where players use actual money to buy random in-game items—prey upon the same impulses that gambling does, and that they can serve as a pathway to get kids hooked. He suggests that any game with loot boxes (or similar systems) should not only be restricted to those over the age of 18 (the legal gambling age in Australia), but should also carry warning labels specifying the reason for the rating as well.
While Australia has a reputation for being incredibly heavy-handed with its classification of video games—mostly down to a broken old system from decades past that has since been overhauled (but which still has some drug-related kinks in the pipe)—I think this is a no-brainer?
I’ve got a nine-year-old son who plays a lot of games, and the extent to which this stuff is rampant inside platforms like Roblox is terrifying. Then consider the popularity of sports games like FIFA and NBA2K, both of which feature extensive focus on what’s basically gambling, and you can see how this is a regulatory (and psychological!) timebomb that just keeps ticking away.
Here’s the full outline of the bill, which in some cases wouldn’t just restrict the sale of these games, but in some situations just straight up ban them (“RC” means Refused Classification, and games without classification can’t legally be sold here):
Loot boxes are features of interactive games containing undisclosed items that can be purchased with real currency. They can take the form of a virtual box, crate, prize wheel or similar mechanism and contain a prize or item which may or may not benefit the player. For example, a loot box might contain a particular character, additional play time or access to levels and game maps. As the rewards contained within these loot boxes can offer competitive advantages within the game, they carry significant value for players and may hold resale value.
By tempting players with the potential to win game-changing items, encouraging risk-taking for possible reward, delivering random prizes on an intermittent basis, and encouraging players to keep spending money, loot boxes give rise to many of the same emotions and experiences associated with poker machines and traditional gambling activities. This is especially concerning as many games which contain these features are popular with adolescents and young adults. Despite this, loot boxes are not currently required to be considered in classification decisions nor are games required to advertise when they contain this feature.
This bill remedies this by requiring the Classification Board to consider loot boxes when classifying a game. Further, the Board must set a minimum classification of R18+ or RC for games containing this feature, which will restrict children from purchasing and playing these games.
The amendments also require a warning to be displayed when games contain loot boxes or similar features, so that they can be easily identified by parents and guardians.