Australia takes a stance on loot boxes

Amid recent loot box scandals, Australia comes out its own take on the loot box issue, though not as decisively as one would think.

Australia begins conversation about loot boxes in video games

The Australian Government has posted on their official website a study, conducted by the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications. The exact topic is stated as Gaming Micro-Transactions for Chance-Based Items Inquiry. The conclusions of the study come as a result of testing over 7,400 individuals on the effects of loot boxes and how they relate to traditional gambling.

According to the study, loot boxes share many similarities with established gambling games and that the psychological effect of opening loot boxes is not much different.

“We found that the more severe an individual’s problem gambling, the more they spent on loot boxes. … the amount that gamers spent on loot boxes was a better predictor of their problem gambling than high-profile factors in the literature such as depression and drug abuse.”

Furthermore, the study reveals that loot boxes could act as an introduction to problem gambling and that the unregulated nature of loot boxes enables companies to push this product to gambling addicts. In contrast, online esports betting sites are required by law to prevent problem gamblers from placing bets once they have identified themselves as such. Self-exclusion is a major aspect of traditional online gambling and there is no such option available with loot boxes.

While the study does on equate loot boxes to gambling, it does state that there is some correlation between the two, particularly in how they affect the player. Moreover, the researchers also address the argument that loot boxes are more like trading cards since the player always receives something for their money. However, they make the counter-argument that the number of money players spend on loot boxes is comparable to traditional gambling.

Proposed measures

In the final chapters of the study, the researchers propose certain measures to be taken to prevent or limit the spreading problem. These boil down to three significant points:

1. Implementing parental advisories for games that offer loot boxes.
2. Placing a description on games, stating that the product offers gambling or a derivative thereof
3. Limiting the purchase age for games containing loot boxes to those of legal gambling age or older

Will the proposed measures work?

The solutions proposed by the Committee are intangible at best. One only has to recall the discussions of a decade ago regarding the violent and sexual content in modern video games. Parents, media personalities and politicians argued that such games are bad for the children that play them. Certain outspoken individuals took it upon themselves to lead campaigns to ban video games altogether. One thing that all of them missed, or neglected, is that video games already have parental advisory stickers that indicate any unsuitable content within the game and the proposed appropriate age group. Yet despite that, there is no shortage of young children playing violent video games.

In reality, any advisories will be ignored by parents not versed in the gaming industry. The proposed solutions by the Committee will not provide the desired results. One can also argue that this is partially the reason why Belgium decided to ban loot boxes outright, rather than to attempt similar half-measures.

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