Senate Inquiry Requires "Comprehensive Review" of Serving Boxes


The Senate inquiry into "gaming micro-transactions for items based on chance" – also known as a loot survey – presented its report to Parliament, recommending that the federal government conduct a "comprehensive review of gambling booths in video games."

The Senate approved the inquiry at the end of June this year, originally setting September 17 as the date of the due report. The committee voted to extend the reporting deadline twice, however, to allow more testimony. The report was presented by Senator Hanson-Young Greens tonight

The main conclusion of the report was that the Department of Communications and Arts, working with the Department of Social Services, ACMA, the ACCC and the Office of the Commissioner of Electronic Security, launched a review of the service boxes. This review, it was suggested, should also initiate "further research into the potential for gambling-related damages to be experienced as a result of interaction with service boxes."

The report noted that "a global consensus" on whether cash withdrawals are considered to be gambling "has not been achieved, nor has a uniform approach been taken to address the issue."

Recommendation 1

5.16 The committee recommends that the Australian government conduct a comprehensive review of cash draws in video games. This review should be conducted by the Department of Communications and Arts in conjunction with ACMA, ACCC, the Office of the e-Safety Commissioner, the Classification Council and the Department of Social Services.

5.17 This review should commission more research into the potential for gambling-related damages as a result of interaction with service boxes; identify any regulatory or policy gaps that may exist within Australia's regulatory frameworks; examine the adequacy of the Classification Scheme for video games containing loot boxes; to consider whether existing consumer protection structures adequately address the exclusive issues of cash withdrawals; and ensure that Australia's approach to the issue is consistent with international counterparts.

The committee noted that a study presented by Dr. Zendle and Cairns, which was described as "the only current empirical evidence" showing a connection between service boxes and problematic gambling, was worthy of further research. The report added that "analogous evidence" comparing the mechanics of service boxes to other forms of gambling was "convincing":

Through the investigation, similar evidence was presented comparing both the mechanics of the service boxes and the potential for game-related damage to be tried, to other more widely researched forms of gambling. We find this evidence convincing, particularly in the light of the evidence that cashiers use a number of psychological mechanisms seen in other forms of gambling, such as poker machines.

The committee's report "recognizes the community's concern" over the looting, but argued that video games and gambling are regulated by bodies such as the Department of Communications and Arts (which oversees the Classification Council), ACMA, ACCC and the Department of Social services. and the eSafety Commissioner's Office.

The strongest segment among the different shipments to the commission, that the service boxes or microtransactions are recognized in the classification system, was not recommended by the committee.

The Australian Greens, whose Senator Jordon Steele-John presided over the upper house investigation, disagreed with majority conclusions and criticized Labor and Coalition members for ignoring submissions to the investigation.

"It was argued that the risk to children, youth and vulnerable adults of developing gambling-related harm through interaction with looting was of such importance that regulators should try to prohibit or restrict access to games containing cashboxes" . Steele-John said.

In their dissident speeches, the Greens asked the Classification Committee to re-evaluate and classify games where their withdrawal mechanisms "meet the psychological game definition" and can be monetized as R18. Those with withdrawal mechanisms that do not allow virtual items to be monetized, but still fit the psychological criteria, should be classified as MA15.

"We do not believe that introducing measures such as appropriate labeling and rating are so onerous that the profitability of the video game industry would be at stake," the party argued.

The Greens, however, thanked the local video game industry for implementing parental control on platforms and consoles. "It is clear that there is a willingness on the part of the Australian video game industry to engage regulators to address community concerns and develop an appropriate response," the Greens wrote.

The survey attracted 42 separate submissions from a number of statutory bodies, state legislators, representatives of the gaming industry, prominent individuals, and academics. The strongest demands for regulation came from members of the public and academia, as well as from some sectors of government, including the Queensland Attorney General and the Justice Minister.

The Senate inquiry into cash booms will report today

After being postponed twice to allow more evidence, the federal investigation into service boxes will present its findings this afternoon, Kotaku Australia understands.

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Representing developers and publishers, the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association argued that service boxes were just "a form of optional microtransactions," and that "publishers, developers, and platforms typically do not allow service boxes, virtual items, or game points" to be traded in secondary markets.

"Cash drawers use the same" surprise and pleasure "mechanics that business cards, Kinder Surprises and many other consumer products have been using for years," argued industry advocates.

This line of argument was targeted by individuals and academics, with former Kotaku editor and collaborator Jeremy "Junglist" Ray, describing the Kinder Surprise or letter-trading comparison as untrue. "Often what you get is of tiny or zero value, and is often a duplicate of something you've earned before," Ray wrote.

"The odds of winning anything of high value are carefully calculated, not only for the house to always win, but the player feels as if he almost always wins."

A common thread between all industry and government submissions was a recommendation to upgrade the rating system. Deputy Secretary of Liquor Gaming & Racing NSW, Paul Newson, suggested that raising the rating for games "that have in-game features, even where the game itself is not a game, could provide stronger protection for consumers of damages ".

"We recommend that games that contain paid service boxes also have a descriptor describing that the game itself has game content," said the IGEA submission, adding that more attention should be given to restricting games with cash boxes to " players of legal age to play. " .

NSW And Victoria Push For Loyalty Boxes To Be Classified

With just under a month until the Senate inquiry into "micro-transactions of games for items based on chance" – service boxes and such – reports, more submissions for the investigation were made public.

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This story is being updated …


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