Australian Committee Say Loot Boxes Are Exploiting Gambling Disorders
September 17, 2018. End of June, Australia started an investigation on loot boxes after an academic publication indicated that loot boxes are akin to gambling. The investigation was undertaken by the Environment and Communications References Committee. Its results were presented today in a 30 minutes long public hearing by lead investigators Dr David Zendle and Dr Paul Cairns and by means of a document which summarizes the outcome.
The full report suggests that games with loot boxes be given parental advisories, advertise the presence of “in-game gambling content” and that “serious consideration is given to restricting games that contain loot boxes to players of legal gambling age.”
A survey of over 7,000 gamers has found “important links between loot box spending and problem gambling”.
Undertaken by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC), the survey was sparked in response to a academic journal article published in Nature Human Behaviour, titled ‘Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling’.
Those are the recommendations of the Senate-commissioned committee, but they’ll only translate into action if legislation is passed. Previous action, like Belgium’s anti-loot box efforts, have depended on extending existing gambling laws to cover loot box-style transactions. But it sounds like that specific outcome is unlikely in Australia.
Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act 2001 is cited as the most likely applicable law for loot boxes, but since these digital transactions typically can’t be “cashed out” for real value, that law is unlikely to be applied here. There have been attempts to amend that law to extend to virtual items over the years, but those attempts have failed.
In particular, the report suggested, loot boxes could act as a gateway to problem gambling among gamers, and provide gaming companies with an unregulated way of “exploiting gambling disorders among their customers”.
Considering the survey findings, it was recommended that games containing loot boxes carry parental advisories and a description that clearly state the presence of “in-game gambling content”.
Additionally, restricting the sale of games that contain loot boxes to players of the legal gambling age should be given “serious consideration”.
“Industry statements typically disassociate loot boxes from gambling,” reads the report transcript. “They instead highlight similarities between loot boxes and harmless products like trading cards or Kinder Surprise eggs…
“By contrast, researchers argue that loot boxes share so many formal similarities with other forms of gambling that they meet the ‘psychological criteria’ to be considered gambling themselves. These researchers further suggest that buying loot boxes may therefore lead to problem gambling amongst gamers.”
The report continued, suggesting that spending large amounts of money on loot boxes was “associated with problematic levels of spending on other forms of gambling”.
“This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling,” it reads. “It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.”
“Without such an amendment of the current Australian gambling laws,” the committee concludes, “enforcement action in terms of loot boxes is currently unlikely.”
The full report and executive summary can be downloaded here.