Australia may introduce harsher age ratings for games with loot boxes—including the likes of FIFA, and the NBA 2K games—if changes proposed by the federal government are passed. The Albanese government announced yesterday its terms for an modified National Classification Scheme, and among the changes include a minimum M rating for games with paid loot boxes, and a minimum R18+ rating for games containing “simulated gambling”.
That means any game with loot boxes purchasable with real money could be slapped with an M rating, even a good ‘ol soccer game like FIFA, which normally receives a G rating in Australia (for general audiences). On the other hand, the changes would not affect games like Hot Wheel Unleashed, which is the last game I played with loot boxes, because they can only be purchased with in-game currency, which itself cannot be purchased with real money.
As for what “simulated gambling” means, that refers to virtual “social casinos” or poker machines that can (usually via the purchase of virtual currency) eat up real money. As per the review document, “it is illegal [in Australia] for gambling providers to offer online casinos or casino apps where players can cash out winnings,” and so in their place have emerged “simulated gambling” games.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because these proposed changes originate from a review of the Australian classification system which commenced in 2020. The government released that report yesterday, and while the proposals related to loot boxes and gambling are most consequential—in the sense that the government wishes to action them—the report does also brush upon the Australian Classification Board’s famously severe approach on “impact”, especially as it relates to drugs and sex. It’s this severity that has led to the likes of Disco Elysium and DayZ being refused classification, albeit temporarily.
“I [report author Neville Stevens] have recommended that the Guidelines are aligned at R 18+ with most prohibitions that are unique to games removed, so that these games are available to adults rather than being Refused Classification,” the report reads, adding that, despite a “few submitters” proposing one, there is no need for an X18+ category for games. It’s the kind of recommendation which, if proposed and passed through, would probably put an end to all of Australia’s videogame classification woes. Alas, the government seems to have its sights locked firmly on gambling right now.
Even then, it’s not a dead certainty: the proposals need the support of each of Australia’s states and territories.