Europe is ready to crack down on loot boxes and exploitative game mechanics
Image: Michael Crider/IDG
Have you looked around at the state of the game industry and wondered, “Geez, when did every AAA game turn into a mini-casino?” If so, you’re not alone. The European Parliament, the EU’s representative legislative body, has called upon the European Commission to address a series of issues affecting the game industry and players in general. These include exploitative loot boxes, online gambling, subscriptions, and various protections (or lack thereof) for minors.
According to GamesIndustry.bizthe report charges the Commission to address a long series of issues, including the possibility of expanding the law to more closely regulate loot boxes. It doubles down on loot boxes, subscriptions, and auto-renewals targeted specifically at minors, as well as opening up the possibility to enshrine the industry’s self-regulating PEGI system (the EU’s equivalent of ESRB game ratings) in European law. New labels for PEGI ratings might include in-game purchases and advertising alerts.
The recommendations are broadly consumer-focused, with the Commission also tasked to gather data on average time and money spent on games, “socio-psychological effects,” and the possibility of regulating online games targeted at children. (Recent attention on games like Roblox should be mentioned at this point.) The report goes so far as to address “gold farming in connection with financial crimes and human rights abuses.”
While no recommendations for specific legislation are put forth in the report beyond the PEGI system, the data and research it calls for might result in just that. Pushback from game industry trade groups is a good indication that publishers and developers are taking it seriously, and bristling at the possibility of restrictions on monetization strategies and games aimed at children. Any wide-reaching laws in the European Union are likely to cause changes in the global gaming market, as publishers design around any specific limitations in larger releases.
Loot boxes are a bit of an older issue at this point — as ever, the law moves slower than the technology it regulates. Developers have largely moved on to battle pass systems for recurring payments, which swap out randomized rewards with specific grinding goals. Countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have already made progress in regulating the more gambling-style elements of loot boxes, resulting in games like Overwatch switching to a more straightforward battle pass — for better or worse.