Microtransactions like loot boxes are a big part of modern gaming to the point that most of EA’s revenue comes from these mechanics. It’s not alone, either. Governments around the world are taking a closer look at these money-making features to determine whether or not they constitute gambling. Some countries like Belgium and The Netherlands have already decided they are, and Australia might be headed in that direction according to a new government report.
The Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee (ECRC) conducted a survey of more than 7,400 gamers in the country to determine how they respond to “chance-based” items in games. The ECRC presented the results of the study during a public hearing in Canberra this week. As you might expect, the study supports the idea that loot boxes are “psychologically akin to gambling.”
According to the ECRC, the levels of spending and state of mind seen in heavy loot crate purchasers is very similar to those who gamble in more traditional ways. Gamblers chase the emotional high of a big win by pumping more and more money into a game of chance. Since loot crates award items randomly, gamers get stuck in a similar cycle.
This isn’t just an academic distinction. The ECRC says loot boxes can have deleterious effects on vulnerable players. The report says that those who spend the most on in-game microtransactions are more likely to suffer from addiction to traditional gambling. By the same token, gamblers can get their fix with loot boxes instead of a few rounds of cards. It’s not the same as, for example, collecting baseball cards.
The payment mechanics in Battlefront 2 were so bad that governments have started investigating.
The committee offered several potential restrictions on loot boxes but not an outright ban. These games could end up restricted to those aged 18 and older (the legal gambling age in Australia). The ECRC also suggests titles with loot boxes carry a warning about the presence of chance-based items and the dangers of gambling. However, these are all just suggestions — Australia has not taken up any legislation on the matter, and no rule-making body has weighed in yet.
Whether or not Australia decides loot boxes are gambling, the tide seems to be turning against this form of monetization. EA kicked off the current round of investigations when it integrated obnoxious pay-to-win mechanics into Star Wars: Battlefront II. While it backed down and removed those elements, it may have spoiled the party for other publishers like Blizzard and 2K. EA has refused to pull microtransactions in Belgium, potentially setting up a legal battle to decide the matter.
Now read: Battlefront II Investigated in Belgium as EA’s Reddit AMA Bombs, EA Frantically Defends Loot Crates in Battlefront II as Gamers Strike Back, and Star Citizen Unveils $ 27,000 Content Pack, Because of Course