Australian Senate debates greater regulation of loot boxes

A Senate inquiry has gotten underway in Australia to investigate the current classification and regulation of loot boxes in video games.

Australia on a map

The Senate inquiry began last Friday in Melbourne. © Pexels.

The inquiry was originally moved by Greens senator Jordan Steele-John and passed by the Senate in June. The inquiry started last Friday in Melbourne and has attracted evidence from industry figures, health professionals and also members of the public.

Of those to submit evidence, psychiatrists in particular have warned of the addictive nature of loot boxes, comparing them to gambling machines, and called for greater regulation.

Loot boxes remain under consideration across the world, as Governments decide whether to officially class them as gambling.

Australia has taken a sterner approach than most. Back in March, the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner published guidelines on its website outlining the dangers of loot boxes and how to deal with potential problems arising from them.

However, whereas in some countries, such as Belgium, loot boxes have been made illegal under gambling laws, this is the first move at Senate level in Australia.

Submissions in favour of regulation

A range of stakeholders have submitted evidence to the court, with most appearing in favour of regulation, with the evidence provided largely focusing on the addictive and predatory nature of loot boxes and the likelihood they have of ensnaring younger gamers.

One submission outlined how the game of chance aspect of loot boxes leads to large dopamine rushes which encourage repeat behaviour, while another said a long-term consequence could be a move to typical forms of gambling.

For example, an excerpt from a paper jointly submitted by Dr James Sauer and Dr Aaron Drummond reads:

It is plausible that those engaging with these loot box systems could have short-term consequences (eg, overspending on accessing loot box systems) and longer-term consequences (eg facilitating migration to more conventional forms of gambling.Dr James Sauer and Dr Aaron Drummond, Senior lecturers

The inquiry will last some time, but what is already clear is that state-level regulation of video games would prove difficult in Australia. Issues over jurisdiction, complicated by the online nature of many games, mean that federal-level regulation may be required.

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