The Environment and Communications Committee report into ‘Gaming micro-transactions for chance-based items’ — otherwise known as the Senate’s investigation into video game loot boxes — was today tabled in the Australian Senate.
Few recommendations stemming from the report itself will be followed through, with the Senate Committee noting that a worldwide consensus on whether or not loot boxes should be consider as gambling has yet to be reached.
The committee acknowledged that both video games and gambling are regulated by various bodies here in Australia, and did not recommend that that loot boxes or microtransactions be addressed by the Australian Classification Board in its classification system.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, who chaired the upper house inquiry, has said he disagrees with the committee’s decisions.
“Many loot boxes utilise a number of psychological mechanisms commonly seen in other forms of gambling, including variable ratio reinforcement schedules, entrapment and ready and constant availability,” Senator Steele-John said. “Furthermore, it was argued that the risk to children, young people and even vulnerable adults from developing gambling-related harms through interaction with loot boxes was of such significance that regulators should seek to either prohibit, or restrict access to games containing loot boxes.
“As chair, I sought to follow this evidence and recommended the Parliament take action to ensure that no young person who plays video games is exploited by gambling-like mechanisms. Labor and the Coalition combined to outvote me in this effort and replace the committee’s considered and appropriate recommendations with a single watered-down recommendation for a government review.”
Senator Steele-John questioned “no mention of similarities between these types of in-game mechanisms and gambling, especially pokies machines, despite the overwhelming evidence presented to the inquiry to the contrary!”
Moreover, Steele-John said, “the Labor party and coalition government are both in the pockets of the pokies industry and are prepared to put their donations before the safety of young people.”
All’s not lost — a couple recommendations will be actioned.
“The committee recommends that the Australian Government undertake a comprehensive review of loot boxes in video games,” one recommendation reads. “This review should be led by the Department of Communications and the Arts in conjunction with the ACMA, the ACCC, the Office of the e-Safety Commissioner, the Classification Board, and the Department of Social Services.”
“This review should commission further research into the potential for gambling-related harms to be experienced as a result of interaction with loot boxes; identify any regulatory or policy gaps which may exist in Australia’s regulatory frameworks; examine the adequacy of the Classification Scheme as it relates to video games containing loot boxes; consider if existing consumer protection frameworks adequately address issues unique to loot boxes; and ensure that Australia’s approach to the issue is consistent with international counterparts,” another reads.
If you’d like to read the full report, you can do so here.