Loot boxes have quickly gained a negative focus from gamers, being perceived as “pay to win rewards.” This has become a growing concern for lawmakers for a different reason, as they could also be perceived as a form of gambling targeted at minors. Australia has taken a proactive step to limit access to these loot boxes by setting age restrictions.
The new regulations require that any person purchasing videogame loot boxes will have to show ID. According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, access to these boxes and other simulated gambling elements in computer or video games will be restricted to “adults aged 18 years or over, including through the use of mandatory age verification.”
Australia isn’t the first country to try and legislate against the practice. U.S. Senator Josh Hawley has introduced a bill that would ban the sale of loot boxes to minors, despite taking criticism from gaming industry leaders.
ESA CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis, attacked the U.S. bill. “This legislation is flawed and riddled with inaccuracies,” he said. “It does not reflect how video games work nor how our industry strives to deliver innovative and compelling entertainment experiences to our audiences. The impact of this bill would be far-reaching and ultimately prove harmful to the player experience, not to mention the more than 220,000 Americans employed by the video game industry.”
But keeping loot boxes in check has become a fairly popular policy position. Former United States presidential candidate Andrew Yang also called for new regulations during his run for the presidency.
He explained that there is a very direct resemblance between gambling and loot boxes. “These mechanisms can seem similar to gambling because of the random outcome, keeping players (usually kids) engaged on the platform for longer or costing them hundreds or thousands of dollars in addition to the base cost of the game. Some games have a ‘free-to-play’ model, where the game itself is free but they’re funded by the purchase of these loot boxes.”
The United Kingdom is also arguing that loot boxes can become a gateway to gambling. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) recently published a report that indicated that loot boxes are “polluting” youth, and that regulation should be implemented.
According to RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer, even young people are seeing a need for regulation. “However, we, and the young people we’ve spoken to, are concerned at how firmly embedded gambling-type features are in many of these games. The rise of loot boxes and skin betting has seen young people introduced to the same mechanisms that underpin gambling, through an industry that operates unchecked and unregulated on the back alleys of the internet, which young people can access from their bedrooms.”
Belgium and the Netherlands have also added regulations banning the sale of these loot boxes to persons under 18, forcing game developers to remove them from their games in these markets.