The Australian government has announced several proposed amendments to the country’s National Classification Scheme, which will seek to better regulate the use of paid loot boxes in video games, as well as what it refers to as ‘simulated gambling’.
As outlined in a media release from the Minister of Communications, the scheme will look to introduce a mandatory, minimum classification for M (Mature) for any digital game containing paid loot boxes or such equivalent. This would mean that such games would be deemed not recommended for children under the age of 15.
This follows a proposed bill from November 2022, which sought to introduce a mandatory R18+ rating for games with loot boxes.
Under the new scheme, this would mean games such as FIFA, a title that has consistently come under scrutiny for its implementation of randomised packs of player cards in its FIFA Ultimate Team mode across the globe, will be rated M.
Currently, FIFA 23 carries a G (General) rating in Australia, the lowest possible classification. The new scheme may mean that game’s market potential in the country would be significantly diminished.
Additionally, the new scheme will look to introduce a mandatory classification of R18+ to any game that contains ‘simulated gambling’. While this is a clear crackdown on the proliferation of accessible, dedicated virtual gambling games and apps, some of which incorporate real-world money, how it may affect regular video games could have a big impact.
Games like Yakuza and Grand Theft Auto, which tell crime fiction stories in contemporary society, often have mini-games where you can indulge in Majhong or casino games. These games, which revolve around mature themes, would likely be classified R18+ regardless however.
The more curious question is how it might affect games in the vein of The Witcher 3 or Final Fantasy, which have in the past, contained their own unique card games (as in, a game within a game) that can be played against other characters, and be wagered upon.
Even games in the Super Mario Bros. series have in the past included Poker-style mini-games. Under the new scheme, inclusions like these would likely mean an R18+ rating in Australia.
‘We want to be very clear and very binary in this regard, and the certainty that is provided by a proposal that says if there is simulated gambling in a game, then it is subject to a particular rating,’ Rowland told ABC News.
‘That is the clearest indication that we can give not only to consumers, but also to industry.’
Australia’s existing Classification Scheme has somewhat of a reputation for its strict classification decisions, especially when it comes to the depiction of drugs. In the past, this has led to surprising events, such as tranquil games with brief, innocuous depictions of marijuana usage being refused classification completely, and being banned from sale.
These new Classification Scheme measures are an ‘immediate priority for the Government,’ according to the release, and ‘will help to protect those most vulnerable in our community from gambling harms, and signal that such games are not appropriate for children.’
The Government has pointed to research that suggests that there is ‘an association between both loot boxes and simulated gambling and harms such as problem gambling.’
The Government has also noted that the current scheme is ‘incompatible with the increasingly digital media environment. As a result, a large volume of online content is not compliant with the current Scheme.’
However, as part of the proposed scheme, options for the screen entertainment industries to self-classify its content will be expanded upon, to be ‘simpler and more cost effective.’
The Minister for Communications will seek agreement on the Scheme from the state and territory Attorneys-General, as well as consult with industry stakeholders, before the scheme is voted on.