The Australian Government recently gave its response to the report into loot boxes, “Gaming micro-transactions for chance-based items“. The government commissioned research into whether video game loot boxes lead to gambling habits in Aussie youths.
The Australian Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee commissioned the research. A key part of the study involved “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.”
The Senate panel concluded that the Australian Government has a “significant role to play in protecting consumers.” That role includes regulations for parent controls on video games. It also includes spending limits on in-game purchases, as well as other video game restrictions.
Officials noted that video game loot box research is in its infancy. The government called for more studies of the effects of gaming micro-transactions, so leaders can craft an “evidence-based regulatory approach to mitigate against any harms.”
The 2018 loot box study found that micro-transactions could meet the “physiological criteria” for gambling. Ultimately, Australia’s government did not categorize loot boxes as gambling. At the same time, leaders plan to fund more studies into the question. They did not call for a full department review, though.
Loot boxes are in-game purchases that are a part of many video games. Also called booster packs, loot crates, or Gacha systems, loot boxes boost the revenues for video game publishers. They provide skill or power upgrades, special weapons or gear, or other enhancements that help players in the game.
For years, video game players complained that paid loot boxes unbalance a game or make them unfair. While players can attain the same upgrades through play, it allows people with extra money to gain an advantage without earning it in-game.
That isn’t the main complaint parents groups and lawmakers have, though. It is the random nature of loot boxes that concern many. A person pays real money for a random result, which many people equate to gambling.
Governments around the globe studied the question of whether loot boxes should be defined as gambling. Belgium and Holland each ruled that booster packs are gambling, while France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom ruled the opposite.
The United States federal government plans a study of the question in August, while US states like Washington and Hawaii already have explored the question.
The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) agreed with the Senate’s response and released a statement at the time. The statement read, “IGEA welcomes the Government’s agreement with the committee that loot boxes are already subject to both state and federal laws and that there is currently insufficient evidence for further regulation.”
“We note the Government’s conclusion that a formal departmental review of loot boxes is not warranted at this time.”
The journal “Addictive Behaviors” published a separate study into the addictive quality of loot boxes. The study, called “Associations between loot box use, problematic gaming and gambling, and gambling-related cognitions”, collected data on how much money video game players spend on loot boxes.
The researchers (Luke Clark, Gabriel A. Brooks) found that the average gamer pays $17.50 a month on loot boxes. 10% of video game players spend $50 or more on loot boxes. Clark and Brooks determined that loot boxes are a form of gambling.
Of course, the two published their findings in a journal called “Addictive Behaviors”, which means their findings might be cooked into the bargain. The key finding by the Australian government is loot boxes are gaming, but not gambling.