Australia issues online gambling guidelines for loot boxes

The debate surrounding loot boxes and whether they should be classed as gambling took another step forward this week, as Australia published safety guidelines on the dangers of loot boxes online.

A loot box

Loot boxes or crates as the subject of much discussion among ministers across the world. © The Verge.

The safety guidelines can be read on Australia’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner website in a document covering online gambling in games and online games with gambling elements.

The guidelines are not an official classification of loot boxes as gambling nor do they suggest that legal action will be taken against them. But, they do highlight the Australian government’s position on the issue.

The document refers to loot boxes under the heading ‘online games with gambling elements’ and explains what loot boxes are, as well as discussing the gambling aspects and potential dangers of them and how to deal with problems arising from the purchase of loot boxes.

The paragraph reads:

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.Statement, Office of the eSafety Commissioner

While the debate about loot boxes has raged on for some time now and governments around the world seem to be in agreement of the predatory nature of in-game transactions, few seem willing to officially class them as gambling. Sweden and Germany are leading that charge, with ministers in both countries pushing government to restrict or ban loot boxes and micro-transactions in video games.

In the US, Chris Lee, a Hawaii state representative, is sponsoring pieces of legislation in the state house and senate to clamp down on in-game micro-transactions. If successful, Hawaii could implement legislation that would introduce age restrictions on the purchase of games that contain loot boxes or other in-game transactions.

However, Australia appears to be the first country to unofficially class loot boxes as a form of gambling and the move is intended to ensure that everyone is aware of the nature and danger of loot boxes.

In the UK, the UK Gambling Commission announced in December 2017 that loot boxes should not be classed as gambling in the country. However, that definition could be subject to change, with the Commission also admitting at the time that the risks surrounding the issue are not yet fully understood.

Loot boxes were a major topic of discussion in the world of online gambling last year, but it seems that debate will rage on throughout 2018.

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