The Australian government has further weighed in on the subject of loot boxes in games by referencing the randomized loot purchase in a series of “online gambling” guidelines.
Australia’s guidelines for loot boxes can be found on the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’ssite, a government office that includes information on “helping all Australians have safe, positive experiences online.” While cyberbullying and other online concerns have been addressed in the past, the addition of loot boxes to the subject of online safety discussions is a new one that warns parents about the potential gambling hazards the loot boxes may include.
The eSafety Commissioner’s guidelines referencing loot boxes can be found under the “online gambling” section of the site that prefaces the discussion be defining gambling as something that “involves the risk of losing something of value (in most cases money) for the chance of winning a prize (of monetary or some other value)” before saying that there are some difficulties when it comes to differentiating between gambling and online gaming elements. The site then offers a series of guidelines that break down the terms and trends that have been connected to the online gambling discussion including words like “loot boxes,” “crates,” and “freemium” models.
“Some online games include activities and features that are normally associated with gambling—like ‘loot’ boxes, ‘bundles’, ‘crates’ and ‘cases’ that provide a random chance to win virtual items, which can include an in-game currency.
“Many games operate on a ‘freemium’ model. Your child can access the basic game for free, but might need to purchase credits, keys or in-game items for additional content or to access special features, including the chance to win items in a loot box or crate. These items can also be acquired randomly, as a reward through gameplay, or exchanged between players.
“In-game items can include an in-game currency, equipment, tools, weapons or ‘skins’. Skins are used in some of the most popular games to cosmetically alter a player’s weapon, equipment or avatar and can vary in their value depending on how rare and popular they are.
“While these items can’t be exchanged for real money within the game, there are third party websites—which are generally not approved by the video game industry—that advertise and offer users the opportunity to gamble these items and convert them to cash. This could potentially be an incentive for young people to spend more on in-game items in the hope of cashing in the rare and popular items at a profit.”
The guidelines continued to discuss the potential harm that loot boxes could call while also providing suggestions for dealing with any gambling/purchasing problems that may come from loot boxes. Australia’s guidelines don’t indicate that any actions will be taken against loot boxes and other online microtransaction concerns, but this combined with the ESRB’s recent decision to advertise if games have online purchases signals that the loot box discussion isn’t finished yet.