Australia mulling harsher rules for video games featuring gambling elements, loot boxes

Video games with simulated gambling are set to be given an R18+ rating in Australia under a new proposal to protect children and problem gamblers. Additionally, the federal government will also seek to change classification rules to require all games with paid loot boxes to carry at least a “mature” M-rating, impacting popular franchises like the FIFA series of soccer games.

The move is part of a proposal targeted at restricting children’s access to popular casino-style games, as concern mounts over more gambling elements in video games. Proponents of the new regulation argue there is a link between people who play simulated gambling games and real monetary gambling.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says the proposals — which will require the agreement of states and territories to proceed — are designed to address concerns that these games can encourage players to migrate to gambling. “There is growing community concern around the harms of simulated gambling,” she said, as reported by ABC News. “A parent, for example, would expect that if their children had purchased and was playing a game, and that game contained some simulated gambling, that they have a right to know about that.” 

Loot boxes are under watch for containing gambling elements

However, the changes may also mean people under 18 will not be permitted to purchase games that contain simulated gambling in a less prominent way, including as a narrative element of a broader game. “We want to be very clear and very binary in this regard, and the certainty that is provided by a proposal that says if there is simulated gambling in a game, then it is subject to a particular rating,” Rowland further stated. “That is the clearest indication that we can give not only to consumers, but also to industry.” 

Some are seeking even tighter restrictions. Independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Rebekha Sharkie and Liberal National Party MP Andrew Wallace are pushing for games with loot boxes to be adult-only as well. “By rating games containing loot boxes as M, children aged between 15 and 18 will continue to be exposed to harmful gambling simulators, with it being likely that people younger than 15 will be able to access them given how easy it is for anyone to purchase an M-rated product,” Wilkie said in a written statement retrieved by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Andrew Wilkie

Loot boxes are virtual items players can redeem for other online mystery items including weapons, armor and customization options for their avatar. The products have increased in popularity as game developers look to generate more money through in-game purchases. But they are not without their controversy, as some gambling harm experts believe companies target children and young people by embedding these features. In response, some game developers have already phased out loot boxes, including the popular game Fortnite.

In defending the proposal, Rowland cited research from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts revealing an association between both loot boxes and simulated gambling, and problem gambling. Decisions on future changes to the proposed classification scheme reforms will be made after consultation with state governments, the community and industries.

A parliamentary inquiry into online gambling is currently considering how simulated gambling games are regulated, among other issues. It is due to report back in the coming months.