Are Gaming 'Loot Boxes' Grooming Our Kids To Be Gamblers?
They're random rewards and cost real world money -- so should kids have access to loot boxes in video games?
What you need to know
- Loot boxes are often randomised rewards that can be purchased in video games
- An Australian Senate Inquiry is looking into whether current laws protect children from this form of gambling
- Some European countries have banned loot boxes from video games
- It comes as the World Health Organisation adds "gambling disorder" to its list of mental illnesses
Thirteen-year-old Christian Bitar admits he's "pretty addicted" to playing video games and says in a gamer's world it's as much about winning as it is fitting in.
"All of my friends have spent on loot boxes - some more than others, we mainly do it to fit in really," he told ten daily.
Loot boxes are digital containers of randomised rewards, and they're available in a number of popular video games. While they differ from game to game, it usually involves buying a box that offer features like new character outfits and powerful weapons.
Random offerings from a loot box in the game Overwatch
They can be purchased with in-game currencies such as points, coins and keys, but increasingly it costs a player real world money.
Bitar, a teenage gamer from Sydney's inner west said one of his friends has spent $1000 on loot boxes this year.
"You can go buy all these gift vouchers and you can put the code in or you can get your mum's credit card and it automatically charges. You can buy these vouchers from Kmart and Target, they are easy to get," Bitar said.
It's this ease of access and exchange of money that has legislators examining if its a predatory process that's akin to gambling.
"My friend, who's spent the most has all these good 'skins' -- they just make you look different on the battlefield, like better weapons and amour. And my school friends spend all this money to make them look good but it doesn't mean you play good," Bitar said.
Melbourne teenager Harry Leibold has also bought loot boxes.
"Sometimes you're disappointed with what you get but you just have to accept it. So it's a waste of money but I still like to spend it," he said.
Leibold understand why loot boxes are likened to gambling.
"I think it's sort of gambling but I know it's a waste of money and only spent like $50 so I don't see this as I'm going to become a gambler when I'm older," he told ten daily.
A new Senate Inquiry is underway to examine whether these randomised "micro-transactions" are harmful to young players.
It's being driven by Australia's youngest ever Senator, Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John.
“I have significant concerns about the adequacy of current consumer protection and regulatory frameworks for monetised game mechanics, particularly when we know they are accessible to children,” Senator Steele-John said.
Bitar says he often hedges his bets on the pricier loot boxes.
"With FIFA, the good ones cost more and you have a better chance of getting a good player but, for example, it's just called 'rare player" so it's still just random. I guess you never know what you'll get but you pay more because you think it's going to be better," he said.
In a joint study, academics from Australia and the United States looked into this exact phenomena.
They examined nearly two dozen games where random loot boxes can be purchased. The titles included Assassins Creed Origins, FIFA 18, Halo Wars 2 and Overwatch.
They found the loot boxes in almost half (45 percent) of the 22 games they analysed there were "structural and psychological similarities with gambling" and were not appropriate for adolescent players under the age of consent for gambling.
"The potential for long-term consequences also concerns us because males, a particularly large group within gamers, exposed to gambling when young are particularly at risk of developing problematic gaming behaviours," Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Tasmania James Sauer said.
The release of this research coincided with the decision of the World Health Organisation's announcement that "gaming disorder" is to be listed as a mental health condition for the first time.
The Netherlands and Belgium have declared at least some loot boxes to be gambling, while the United Kingdom and New Zealand have disagreed. The gaming French regulatory body recently determined that loot boxes in video games didn't constitute a form of gambling.
Back home, we'll know more by mid September, when the inquiry's findings and recommendations are expected to be released.