The Australian Government is set to introduce new, mandatory minimums for classification of video games featuring loot boxes and gambling elements, in an effort to protect children from developing harmful habits. As spotted by IGN, the changes mean that any video game feature in-game purchases linked to chance – like loot boxes – will receive an automatic bump to a minimum M rating, flagging it as “not recommended for children under 15 years of age.”
Any game that includes simulated gambling in any form, including social casino games, will be automatically flagged with the highest R18+ rating, restricting its sale for those under 18 years of age. As is currently practice, these games will feature loot box and gambling warnings on their classification tag.
This ruling, publicly released in September 2023, will come into effect in September 2024, giving ample time for developers to have upcoming content rated under the new guidelines.
Notably, change arrives as global conversations around the impact of gambling and loot boxes on children ramp up. In December 2022, a UK study recommended that loot boxes should be limited to those over 18 years of age to prevent harm, and in July 2023, UK games industry Ukie released a firm set of principles for determining how paid loot boxes in games should be implemented to ensure “safe and responsible play”.
So far, the UK has not implemented direct change, instead counting on game developers to self-regulate their implementation of loot boxes. The Australian Government seems to have taken the first clear steps towards actively prohibiting games with gambling elements from being played by children – and it’s likely these steps will have an impact on global conversations going forward.
“The changes respond to growing community concerns about the potential harms of children accessing gambling-like content in computer games,” an Australian Government media release announcing the changes said. “Research commissioned by the Australian Government has found links between in-game purchases, loot boxes, simulated gambling and gambling harm.”
“The Albanese Government is determined to protect vulnerable Australians from gambling harms – including children who may be exposed to gambling through video games,” Michelle Rowland, the Minister for Communications said. “These changes represent another step in our work to modernise the National Classification Scheme so that Australians can make better informed choices about what they – and those in their care – watch, read and play.”
It remains to be seen how these changes will be implemented in practice, and whether these new classification guidelines will have an impact on the presence of loot boxes and gambling depictions in video games released in Australia.