Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie has announced that he is introducing a bill next month to ban the sale of games containing loot boxes for minors. Although the full text of the bill is not yet available, it will apparently use Australia’s existing classification system to prevent loot boxes from being targeted at young gamers.
“We as a country accept that people over the age of 18 can gamble but let’s make that for adults and giving parents a warning,” stated Wilkie to the Daily Telegraph (article requires paid subscription to access). The Independent MP argues that loot box mechanics groom young gamers “for future gambling” and that, as with other forms of gambling, that it should only be accessed by adults. If this bill became law, any game that contains loot boxes would carry an R 18+ classification. The proposed changes would also add a new notification on the box stating that it contains gambling mechanics.
“It’s not clear if that’s what game companies design but it’s self-evident that they have that effect,” he added. “To allow very young children to pay cash for a randomised event that may or may not reward them that would meet any definition of gambling.”
This follows a trend that has been steadily gathering steam for several years. Although some jurisdictions had restricted microtransactions and loot boxes already, Star Wars Battlefront II and its egregious focus on loot boxes to unlock new content arguably started the current legal movement to restrict or even ban loot box mechanics. Most publishers have responded through self-regulation, by disclosing odds or scrapping microtransactions altogether.
As to whether this bill has a chance of becoming law, it is tough to say. An Australian parliamentary committee has called loot boxes “psychologically akin to gambling” in 2018. The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulator (VCGLR) has also stated that they “constitute gambling” in the wake of the Battlefront II debacle. Still, many games, particularly on mobile storefronts, contain random elements and microtransactions. As such, enacting such a sweeping restriction in the Australian market alone may be difficult to enforce.
It will remain to be seen what kind of bipartisan support the bill will receive, and if it will be amended later on. The Classification Amendment (Loot Boxes) Bill will be put before the lower house of parliament next month.