With loot boxes becoming ever more prevalent as games companies look for ways to increase revenue to cover massive development costs (or to add to their fleet of Lamborghinis), it’s fair to ask whether their randomness constitutes gambling.
According to Jarrod Wolfe, a strategic analyst for the compliance division at the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, they do.
Reddit user -Caesar contacted the VCGLR in regards to his concerns about loot crates and whether they’re considered gambling, and received a detailed response. While the government body does consider the increasingly more common game element gambling, the matter is, unsurprisingly, complicated.
“What occurs with ‘loot boxes’ does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian legislation,” says Wolfe. “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.”
Wolfe also airs particular concerns regarding the normalising of gambling when it comes to minors.
“The focus of my concerns currently is on the more predatory aspects related to ‘pay to win’. Skins, skins betting and virtual currencies are certainly a peripheral consideration. However, the idea that (genuine) progression in a game could be reliant on the outcome of a random number generator is at odds with responsible gambling and the objectives of our acts. More importantly the normalisation of gambling vernacular and mechanics targeted at vulnerable persons (minors), is not just morally reprehensible, but is also legally questionable.”
He assures that wheels are in motion to enact policy changes, “And if an avenue of investigation or enforcement is found then we will most definitely pursue it.”
So, what measures may be considered to counter the increase in loot box culture?
“Enforcement is probably not an option,” states Wolfe, “but we can consider working with other agencies to bring about change in other ways. For instance; if these companies want to include significant elements of gambling in their products then perhaps we should work with the Australian Classification Board to ensure than any product that does that and monetises it gets an immediate R rating. I could imagine that this would send ripples through the industry and it would support the objectives of the gambling legislation to ensure minors are not encouraged to participate in gambling.”
Beyond knowing that somebody’s on the case, it’s also good to know that Wolfe is a gamer who’s up with the latest.
“As far as affecting change from the consumer perspective, for me instead of playing certain Star Wars games I was looking forward to, I will be concerting my efforts on collecting EVERY.SINGLE.MOON in Odyssey.”
The small irony here, of course, is that despite being one of the greatest games we’ve ever played, there are elements of gambling in Super Mario Odyssey‘s mini-games, including slot machines. While this one is a simple test of skill rather than luck, is Mario still leading us astray?
Beyond loot boxes, many products aimed at children have involved a form of gambling for many years. We personally despise the increasing prevalence of “blind bagged” products. From LEGO minifigures to all manner of other small collectibles, unless you can find a decent feel guide then it’s absolute pot luck as to whether you get a new character each time, or the same one over and over again.
In regards to minimising gambling normalisation, where should a line be drawn? It could be argued that the decades-old hobby of collecting swap cards is akin to buying loot boxes. You may get half a dozen cards in a pack, but you have no idea what they’ll be until they’re opened.
As far as games are concerned, it was so much simpler when there was no such thing as internet updates. But with those days long gone, something definitely has to be done – yes, somebody has to think of the children. Hopefully people power – such as that which had EA furiously backpedalling on their loot implementation in Star Wars Battlefront II – will win out.