The French consumer advocacy group, the UFC-Que Choisir, has penned a request to the French authority for online gaming and gambling, ARJEL, to begin implementing measures to mandate prohibition of games containing premium loot boxes being allowed to be sold to minors.
Juex Video picked up the news from a post published on November 22nd, 2017 over on the official Que-Choisir website, where the organization made the call-to-action for regulation on the premium loot box market.
In fact, the Que Choisir calls it out for exactly what it is: a pay-to-win scheme. The organization explains…
“Pay to win: without transparency, it’s not a game.
“Beyond this logic of gambling, the generalization of paid transactions integrated into already expensive games is as such problematic. Publishers are putting in place mechanics of games conducive to the proliferation of integrated purchases, creating deliberately frustrated players who want to unlock these free bonuses, at the price of a disproportionately high number of hours of play.”
“This is all the less bearable when these barriers to a healthy gaming experience are not known to consumers prior to purchase. However, these games, whether purchased in box or in paperless format, are not refundable once they have been started. Therefore, buyers who realize after purchase that the game is unbalanced to push for integrated transactions would be without recourse. Prior information on the presence and extent of these practices is therefore essential.”
The well written response to the growing trend of premium loot boxes appearing in AAA games appeals to other regulatory bodies in France, specifically the ARJEL, in order to take measures to prohibit the sales of games containing premium loot boxes to minors. This would effectively put them in the same category as other adult-themed consumer products and material, where purchasers would have to be over the age of 18 to buy the game.
For a game like Star Wars: Battlefront II, it would effectively force it to receive the AO – Adults Only label from the ESRB if such a regulation did pass, and it would also require the game to have a higher rating in PEGI regions as well. As detailed in an article from back in 2007 on IGN, it was explained that gambling games themed around casino gambling automatically get AO ratings…
“A more interesting topic to look at is when a game gets labeled Adult Only without sexual content. Peak Entertainment Casinos is rated AO for Gambling which was seemingly in line with what Peak Entertainment expected when they released the game. “
The Qui-Choisir’s plead for regulators to step in comes shortly after French senator Jérôme Durain penned a letter to the ARJEL via Twitter on November 16th, 2017.
— Jérôme Durain (@Jeromedurain) November 16, 2017
Reddit user Artfunkel translated the letter, which explains that Durain does not believe legislation is required at this point, but he hopes that consumer protections can be put into place by Secretary of State for digital affairs, Mounir Mahjoubi, in order to help curb the rising tide of premium loot boxes in AAA titles, especially when they affect the outcome of player performance, like in the case of Star Wars: Battlefront II. Durain is also sensitive and conscious to the delicate matter involving free-to-play games and cosmetic loot boxes, the latter of which he expresses has been “well-accepted” by the gaming community, writing…
“While I do not think it is necessary at this stage to put in place specific legislation, I wonder about the desirability of providing consumer protection in this area. The use of loot boxes conferring cosmetic additions to the games seems well-accepted by the public. The development of so-called pay-to-win practices is more contentious, as shown by the recent controversy over the game Star Wars Battlefront 2. Quite aside from the acceptance of the practice, some observers point to a convergence of the video game world and practices specific to gambling.
“Transparency is not common with regard to statistics governing loot boxes, even though good practices sometimes exist. China has decided in favour of a transparency of win ratios. Some of our European neighbours (the United Kingdom and Belgium in particular) are looking into the matter through their regulatory authorities. So we see that the question is not unique to France. Does ARJEL have the infrastructure necessary for a general census of win ratios for micro transactions?”
China and South Korea has been dealing with the issue of premium loot boxes, the countries have taken some rather extreme and drastic preventative measures by instituting militarized re-education camps for teens suspected of being “addicted” to video games, which resulted in multiple deaths over the course of the years, as reported by the BBC. However, China in particular – as mentioned by Durain – has also been enforcing publishers to disclose the win percentages of the items contained within loot boxes.
South Korean lawmakers consider gaming one of the “Four Evils” of their culture, alongside drugs, alcohol and gambling. It’s no surprise that they have strict curfews, ID requirements, and parental observation squads to ensure that kids do not become addicted to games, or that publishers don’t over-exploit their targeted demographic.
Durain makes it clear that they don’t need to over-regulate gaming and – unlike Belgian and Hawaiian politicians – Durain does not believe that legislation is entirely necessary at this point, hoping to keep the government’s interference in the gaming industry rather conservative.
In the meantime, Electronic Arts has temporarily disabled microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront II, but they will be coming back. The temporary measure was not well received by investors and shareholders.
With lawmakers and consumer advocacy groups getting involved, one does wonder exactly what sort of prohibitory measures will be put into place to curb any aggressive and predatory microtransaction models in future AAA titles?