Dark path from computer game prizes to problem gambling
Video games such as Fortnite are exposing kids to gambling and increasing their risk of addiction via "manipulative" in-game purchases known as loot boxes.
That's what a parliamentary inquiry into online gambling was told on Wednesday, with one researcher suggesting the games were taking "the absence of opportunities for real winnings to another level".
Loot boxes, which feature in many video games, are a sealed mystery box players can either win or buy, and contain in-game items like costumes or weapons.
Consumer Policy Research Centre's Chandni Gupta said research showed a link between purchasing loot boxes and developing a gambling addiction, even in kids.
"There is little to no transparency on what is offered, how real money is converted to digital currency and also the randomness and design of loot boxes," she told the inquiry.
"People are being manipulated to use real money which is converted into arbitrary digital currency for random digital content."
The centre's Erin Turner said they represented an "unequal transaction".
"A business has quite significantly superior knowledge about an individual's behaviour, their gaming behaviour, and a lot of data about how they're engaging with the game that can be used to manipulate them," she told the inquiry.
"I also don't know how my behaviour ... can be used against me to try to encourage purchases and push me over the edge."
The industry's response to concern surrounding loot boxes was lashed by Nationals MP Pat Conaghan, who said their arguments against any reform reminded him of pushback against anti-smoking laws.
Interactive Games and Entertainment Association CEO Ron Curry said the idea his game producers were providing gambling services to children was "antithetical" to what they stood for and said that criticism was "not adequately informed".
"We've been proactive in putting in place measures such as the parental controls to give players more information and control of in-game spending and loot boxes," he told the inquiry.
"Our industry has no interest in encouraging problematic player behaviours."
Mr Conaghan accused the industry of pushing the problem onto parents, adding that not acting now to address community concern might let harms occur before more evidence comes to light.
"It reminds me of when people used to smoke. It took 40 or 50 years and now we know how much damage that's doing now, but we waited until we had all the evidence on the table," he told the inquiry.
"It seems your evidence is 'parental controls are your problem, this is our product and if you don't like it, don't play it'."