A call has been made to regulate loot boxes in video games in Australia due to their link to gambling risk in children.
Loot boxes originated as early as 2004 and act as a prize pack for selected random items in video games. This concept was promoted in early sports and multiplayer games to reward players for paying real money with virtual mystery prices in their games. However, as time went on, major players such as Electronic Arts (EA) and Blizzard Entertainment saw this as an opportunity to bolster their revenue streams. These loot boxes have at times outperformed the sales of actual games.
As gaming has transcended consoles and computers to mobile devices, many children now have access to games at their fingertips and consequently, loot boxes. With research suggesting that loot boxes are akin to gambling and a form of psychological manipulation, Andrew Wilkie is seeking to introduce a bill that will restrict the use of loot boxes in certain mobile and console games. This will also include introducing warning labels on games that feature loot boxes or similar paid and randomised mechanics. An investigation into loot boxes has already been made in 2018 but failed to provide any certainty to this issue. Australia seems to be leaning towards a reactive approach to loot boxes by providing cautionary warnings of the risks without outright banning these mechanics.
Comparatively, many Australian parents are looking to completely eradicate loot boxes similar to methods enforced in Japan, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Most recently, Germany’s federal parliament passed new laws relating to the issue. In their respective legislation, any games featuring loot boxes or similar mechanics are automatically rated as 18+. This is designed to prevent children from accessing problematic games. As such, if game developers wish to lower this rating to reach a wider audience, they will need to remove loot boxes from their game.
Loot boxes have found a legislative loophole, but it is apparent that some sort of regulation is required in Australia to protect children. It will be interesting to see which approach Australia takes to combat this issue and what effect it will have on the future of mobile and console gaming.