The roller-coaster of emotions that has been the recent Loot Box fiasco doesn’t seem to be coming to a halt any time soon. We have seen a year of predatory and disliked microtransactions entering into the gaming space in a big way as well as the recent fireball of hatred that has erupted from gamers with the release of Battlefront II. And now we have the closest thing yet to confirmation from an official Australian body as to their stance on Loot Boxes and the question of whether or not they can be seen as gambling and become regulated.
After being contacted by a university student via email, Jarrod Wolfe, the Strategic Analyst for the Compliance Division of The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulator (VCGLR) gave his detailed take on the topic:
“What occurs with ‘loot boxes’ does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian Legislation. Unfortunately where the complexity arises is in jurisdiction and our powers to investigate. Legislation has not moved as quick as the technology; at both State and Federal level we are not necessarily equipped to determine the legality of these practices in lieu of the fact the entities responsible are overseas.”
We are currently engaging with interstate and international counter parts to progress wider policy changes and to modernise and inform both Federal and State based legislation. We take on board responses from the community, such as your concerns, to ensure that our actions are reflective of the risks these products pose as well as the community’s expectation. The focus of my concerns currently is on the more predatory aspects related to “pay to win”. Skins, skins betting and virtual currencies are certainly a peripheral consideration. However, the idea that (genuine) progression in a game could be reliant on the outcome of a random number generator is at odds with responsible gambling and the objectives of our acts. More importantly the normalisation of gambling vernacular and mechanics targeted at vulnerable persons (minors), is not just morally reprehensible, but is also legally questionable.”
“Be assured that knowledgeable and interested parties are undertaking a large body of work in relation to issues you noted. And if an avenue of investigation or enforcement is found; then we will most definitely pursue it.”
In regards to what can be done about morally reprehensible Loot Boxes, Wolfe stated:
“Enforcement is probably not an option, but we can consider working with other agencies to bring about change in other ways. For instance; if these companies want to include significant elements of gambling in their products then perhaps we should work with “The Australian Classification Board” to ensure than any product that does that and monetises it gets an immediate R rating. I could imagine that this would send ripples through the industry and it would support the objectives of the Gambling Legislation to ensure minors are not encouraged to participate in gambling.”
“We are working on these complex problems and unfortunately solutions are a lot slower than the technology. The more people that know we are looking the better. The VCGLR want to set the example for dealing with these kind of issues; getting correspondence from you (and others) makes it a lot easier to gauge the feelings of Victorians and lets us know there is genuine interest and concern.”
To see an official Victorian regulation body take a strong stance on the issue is very heartening. Whether they have the tools at their disposal to do anything to regulate the issue is something we will simply have to wait to find out. I feel like this Loot Box fiasco isn’t gong to end any time soon as more and more regulation bodies look towards the digital mystery box as a potential form of gambling. What’s your take on the topic?