The Australian Senate are launching an enquiry into microtransaction loot boxes, investigating whether they constitute gambling and to what extent they “may be harmful”. While the enquiry won’t change any policy itself, it could inform future laws.
A number of politicians and bodies around the world have cocked an eyebrow at microtransaction virtuacrates of random digicrud in recent years, most notably after the loud backlash against Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot boxes. Belgium’s Gaming Commission declared that some loot boxes are gambling and Hawaii’s state government were concerned, among others.
The Environment and Communications References Committee are poking into “Gaming micro-transactions for chance-based items” and should report back by September 17.
The motion which set this in motion, as reported by Kotaku Australia, stated an intent to investigate:
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 monetise 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.
Which seem like sensible things to have a firm legal grasp of.
On that last point, China have required games to disclose odds of getting items in loot boxes since May 2017. While some games with loot boxes started openly disclosing odds globally since then, others have only done so in China. I do hope this becomes standard practice, so we can all see how laughably bad the odds of getting items we covet often are.
Australia have been standing up to Big Video Games more, including fining Valve for saying Steam customers didn’t have the refund rights that Australian law dictates. Though Australia also spent chuffing forever to introduce an adult games rating, ending years of insisting upon censored versions, so they’re not necessarily righteous defenders of video games perhaps as much as worried guardians of morality.