It’s been rampant in the UK and Hawaii, so it was only a matter of time before it reached our shores and now both Victorian and Queensland Government Agencies have weighed in on whether or not lootboxes constitute gambling and the answers are mixed to say the least.
Two days ago a representative of the Victorian Commission For Gambling and Liquor Regulation, Jarrod Wolfe, responded to a Reddit user who asked for an opinion on whether or not lootboxes constitute gambling. The answer went as follows:
“Your research and suppositions on the matter are correct; what occurs with “loot boxes” does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian Legislation. Unfortunately where the complexity arises is in jurisdiction and our powers to investigate. Legislation has not moved as quick as the technology; at both State and Federal level we are not necessarily equipped to determine the legality of these practices in lieu of the fact the entities responsible are overseas.”
What Jarrod is saying is that by the definition of what is gambling in Victoria, lootboxes can be considered gambling, however there isn’t much that can be done about it by their regulatory body because of two reasons:
- The law hasn’t caught up with how far technology has come
- EA (and the majority of other publishers and developers) are entities outside of Australia and therefore do not fall under the local state and federal jurisdiction – it makes it pretty hard
Today, a spokesperson from Queensland’s Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation also responded to the same question. Robert Grimmond’s answer drew the same lines but offered a different conclusion:
“Regrettably, as a regulator of legalised gambling in Queensland, I am not in a position to definitively advise whether ‘loot boxes’ or similar video game features would constitute ‘gambling’, however I can confirm that video gaming which provides for ‘loot boxes’ would not fall within the meaning of a gaming machine as defined under the Gaming Machine Act.”
The key difference under the Gaming Machine Act – originally passed in 1991 – is whether loot boxes would qualify as a “gaming machine”.
Reading between the lines I believe Robert is also saying that the law in Queensland hasn’t quite caught up to technology and how rapidly it has changed in recent years.
So this is where we find ourselves given the latest fallout between EA and the wider gaming community, of which Australia is an active contributor – everyone is yelling that it is wrong, but no one can do anything about it yet.
One suggestion I’ve heard is for the Australian Classification Board to become involved and lay a blanket rule that all games that include a significant element of gambling receive an automatic ‘R’ rating. This would force publishers and developers to choose between having these systems in their games or leaving them out for the sake of attracting a wider initial audience.
There is a huge issue with this though, for example games like Grand Theft Auto V portray gambling, but their microtransaction system is actually one of the best built in the gaming industry in that you can see exactly what it is you are buying and you get what you pay for, no money down for the ‘hope’ of getting that shiny new boat. So you penalise the publishers and developers who actually just want to make an adult game with adult themes, for the sake of enforcing a rule on a few.
*** UPDATE ***
Since writing this story I had been in touch with the Victorian Commission For Gambling and Liquor Regulation, I wanted to speak with Jarrod but was informed that I would be added to a list of people waiting on an official statement which I just received:
“The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) is aware of the issue of “loot boxes”. This is a complex issue and the VCGLR is committed to working with other agencies and jurisdictions to address the risks involved.
The VCGLR has not made a determination that “loot boxes” are an unauthorised form of gambling under Victorian legislation.“
This would seem a little at odds with what was initially reported, but it’s not unusual for Government agencies to release a blanket statement that pulls an initial view back into line with the agency and we appreciate the clarification.
In the meantime we’d love to know what you think the solution to all of this is? This has surely been a huge focal point of discussion across gamers of all walks of life lately – maybe you have thought of something they haven’t?