Australia’s Senate Launches Study of Video Game Loot Boxes
Australia’s Senate passed a motion to investigate the use of controversial loot boxes in video games, which was put forward by Senator Jordon Steele-John. Loot boxes are considered gambling by many game enthusiasts, so the Australian Senate wants to make sure they are not allowing underage video game players to gamble.
Australia was one of the countries which had many underage children involved in skin-gambling Counter-Strike: Global Offensive skins, so the country’s parents groups already are aware that video games sometimes allow children to spend money on gaming propositions.
The CS:GO controversy involved third-party gambling sites – not officially sanctioned gambling by Steam’s parent company, Valve. In the case of video game loot boxes, the randomized gaming is officially sanctioned by the game designers.
A whole host of countries have looked into the question of loot boxes in the past year, including New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Both the United States and United Kingdom are still considering such questions. In Australia, the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee will lead the inquiry into the matter and will come to a conclusion in September.
Senator Jordon Steele-John
With the support of the entire Senate, Senator Jordon Steele-John of the Australia Greens party submitted the notice of motion earlier this week. Having full support means the issue will not be up for debate nor will it require a Senate-wide vote since all are already in agreement on the matter.
The main concert in the motion reads as follows:
The extent to which gaming micro-transactions for chance-based items, sometimes referred to as ‘loot boxes’, may be harmful, with particular reference to:
- (a) whether the purchase of chance-based items, combined with the ability to monetize these items on third-party platforms, constitutes a form of gambling, and;
- (b) the adequacy of the current consumer protection and regulatory framework for in-game micro transactions for chance-based items, including international comparisons, age requirements and disclosure of odds.
Sen. Jordan Steele-John said at the hearing, “I have significant concerns about the adequacy of current consumer protection and regulatory frameworks for monetized game mechanics, particularly when we know they are accessible to children. An incredible number of popular big-name titles incorporate these kinds of monetized game mechanics, not as a way of improving in-game experience, but as a way of simply prying more money off of their players.”
“The impact of gambling on people’s lives is such that we cannot afford to stay silent on this issue, and it is fantastic both the government and the opposition are supporting the Greens on this issue.”
Why Loot Boxes Are Controversial
Though loot boxes are not new to the gaming world, they have recently become a topic that is being debated world-wide. If you aren’t familiar with gaming then the you may have never heard of them, however, most countries are in the midst of making major decisions regarding these controversial gaming tools.
Most video games or even games in general offer some form of loot box. The type of loot box depends on the type of game you are playing. Games offer these as a way to enhance or assist the player’s game somehow. Such upgrades, offered within randomized loot boxes, might involve a new skin, a new piece of wardrobe, a new or upgraded weapon, or other skills a player might want.
Video Game Booster Packs
Loot boxes vary in name as well as the enhancements or assistance they offer. For shooter games you might see them referred to as “loot box”, “loot crate” or “lockbox”. These loot boxes typically consist of new gear, outfit or piece of wardrobe. With digital card games you might see them referred to as “booster pack“. This term originated from collectible card games.
With most video games, loot boxes, are awarded to the player for free. Like in Call of Duty, a multi-player shooting game, players receive them for their character leveling up or as in incentive to make it to the end of a multiplayer game without quitting. Games a person might play on their hand-held devices often give out loot boxes for watching a quick promotional clip in between gameplay. These clips are usually to advertise new games coming out or certain streaming events.
The controversy, however, is not because of these free giveaways. The issue is that the only other way to get loot boxes is to purchase them with your own money. Though with each loot box you are guaranteed an item, it might be one you already have — similar to the idea of sports trading cards. The random nature of the loot box is what makes it so controversial, because children pay real money to collect them.
France, New Zealand, and the UK
Countries, such as Australia, are finding it hard to know exactly where to draw the line between an innocent game of chance and gambling that requires regulation and age limits.
Throughout the world decisions regarding the matter are being made. However, the verdict seems to vary from country to country. In France, ARJEL believes them not to be considered gambling being that the items do not hold “real-world value”. The United Kingdom and New Zealand have reached a similar decision in their view on the issue.
However, there are some who view the matter differently. The Netherlands and Belgium have officially declared loot boxes to be gambling. Though this matter is far from being resolved entirely, it seems like countries are attempting to make moves towards solving the issues loot boxes are bringing. Video games are being reviewed and better systems are being put in place to ensure a safer experience for all.