Because video game loot boxes have ended up in the sights of the authorities

Because video game loot boxes have ended up in the sights of the authorities

The European Union lights up the spotlight on consumer protection in video games. On the one hand, in the Imco commission (for the single market and consumer protection) of the European Parliament, it was proposed to launch an investigation on the effects of online video games on gamers, despite the awareness of the innovation potential that the sector expresses. On the other hand, the Commission has announced that it will carry out an adequacy check of consumer law following the analysis by the Norwegian Consumer Council (Ncc, the consumer protection body in Norway) Insert Coin: How the gaming industry exploits consumers using loot boxes.

A survey that went around Europe bounced back with the assist of Beuc, The European consumer organization, which brings together 17 consumer protection organizations including the 'Italian Adiconsum; and landed in the United States, where consumer associations urged the Federal trade commission (Ftc) to intervene against one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, Electronic Arts, denouncing Fifa.

In a detailed letter, the group of 15 associations led by FairPlay and Center for Digital Democracy, asked the FTC to launch an investigation into the phenomenon of loot boxes, packages of digital content that consumers buy with real money and that offer players perks or items to use in the game.

Doubts about loot boxes The Norwegian authority's report puts loot boxes at the center of its analysis. Their peculiarity is that they are randomized and "screened", in the sense that consumers have no way of knowing what they contain until they have paid for them. Present in a wide range of video games, they can take a variety of forms, "more or less transparent or manipulative", writes the Norwegian authority. In the case of Fifa, among those analyzed by the NCC, players build their own "ultimate team" by opening packages containing a random assortment of game items. The most desirable cards change monthly or weekly, and are advertised through promotional events. To get these cards quickly, the player has to buy buy Fifa points. For the Norwegian regulator, "the probability of getting high value cards is extremely low and it is impossible for the player to know how much money he would have to spend to get them." Furthermore, the players who do not buy the packages would be at a significant disadvantage compared to the opponents who do.

Proposals and positions Although there have been several initiatives of self-regulation or to increase transparency in the mechanisms of the loot boxes (Electronic Arts has published on the site a Global Declaration of Protection of Human Rights and the Report on Global Impact, albeit without any reference to game design), the Norwegian regulator proposes new measures to increase transparency. Among these, indicate the price of the loot boxes with real currency; prohibit loot boxes or randomized paid content for minors and "pay to win" mechanisms; greater transparency on data and access to algorithms by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and regulatory authorities; provide for option to play without piloting of algorithms; improve the control by the consumer protection authorities also in the video games sector; ultimately, prohibit the payment of loot boxes. has sent a reply request to Electronic Arts , who did not respond. Gero MiccichĂ©, development director of Electronic Arts, who is currently working on the new Need for Speed ​​at the Criterion studio, said personally that "the issue relating to in-game purchases is certainly at the attention of all operators in the game industry. I see from the inside how big development companies like Ea are extremely careful to put the community and users first, and how much o effort is being made to bring maximum transparency and awareness regarding in-app purchases. The major video game producers have as their primary interest to serve the players, who today have an active role in shaping video games, their voice is listened to by the developers through various channels. There are certainly operators who tend to implement predatory mechanics in their games - many free-to-plays of oriental origin have galore - and not infrequently they are punished by the players themselves, who soon realize such an approach. The mechanism of the randomness of the purchased contents was certainly not invented by the video game industry: it was already present with the soccer cards, the Magic: The Gathering cards and the Kinder eggs, to name just a few examples. I would like to underline that the developers of this sector today have every interest in implementing healthy and fun mechanics for the players, which are often the result of a direct dialogue with the community and an openness to feedback which is one of the reasons for the success of the games that today are the most popular among players " asked the representatives of Adiconsum and Beuc if formal complaints were taken also in European countries or in Italy to protect their interests At the moment there is no formal initiative also because "it is really complicated to contact our Antitrust authority on this issue, since we have no complaints from consumers and that an in-depth and granular test of the games should be launched, in the version Italian and by cluster of player profiles, to obtain the necessary evidence of unfair commercial practices. ”That of online videogames share is a global market of over 2.8 billion consumers and generating over $ 15 billion in 2020 alone for in-game purchases and sales of additional digital content. The theme is also part of the digital strategy of the European Commission which this year launched the Understanding the value of a European games society project, to evaluate its social, economic, financial and cultural effects and to analyze how this sector crosses the Community policies.

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