20 consumer groups declare war

Will loot boxes finally get a handle on it? More consumer groups want more regulation to better protect players.

20 consumer groups from 18 European countries have joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign against loot boxes. The authorities should be persuaded to give players better protection.

Based on this, a number of measures are required which, among other things, must prevent misleading game design and enforce more transparency in transactions.

The 20 organizations represent consumers in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The campaign is coordinated with the European Consumer Organization in Brussels.

“Wide arsenal of tricks” according to NCC

As examples in 59-page document from NCC mentions the titles “FIFA 22” and “Raid: Shadow Legends”. “Both games use a wide arsenal of tricks to trick consumers into investing as much time and money as possible by taking advantage of consumers hoping to get the reward despite the vanishing chance and likelihood of doing so.” are low, the document says.

According to the report players are often tricked and exploited in connection with the sale and presentation of loot boxes. It includes:

  • Exploitation of cognitive biases and vulnerabilities through misleading design.
  • Use of aggressive marketing practices to promote sales at every opportunity.
  • Meaningless or misleading claims of transparency about the probability of a victory or a loss that are difficult to assess.
  • Use of opaque algorithms and distorted probabilities.
  • Using virtual currency levels to hide or distort real money costs.
  • The very high cost of freemium and endless grinding.
  • The risk of losing content at any time.
  • Targeting loot boxes and manipulative practices against children.

The targeted companies are accused of exploiting consumers by using mechanisms that consumer advocates believe are “predators” and “promoting addiction”.

Microtransactions cause the registers to ring

At least since the pre-launch of “Star Wars: Battlefront 2”, the topic has caused a huge controversy in the video game industry and beyond. Loot boxes were to become a central element of the shooter, which, according to fears, would have made it the “Star Wars online casino for kids”. The mechanics, which also contained pay-to-win elements, were removed after much criticism before launch. But it is a topic that has occupied the industry for years.

Not without reason: Developers and publishers make billions of dollars with loot boxes, microtransactions, and other forms of revenue generation. For some companies, the classic sales of video games have even been dragged into the background.

Activision Blizzard, for example, recently pointed out that revenue from live service titles, downloadable add-ons, World of Warcraft subscriptions, loot boxes and cosmetics was $ 5.1 billion last year. That is 61 percent of the publisher’s total sales. Industry giants like Electronic Arts and Take Two achieve comparable values.

Business models are technically complex or new

However, ethical guidelines are not always followed when making money: “Through our work, we have found that the sale and display of loot boxes often involves the exploitation of consumers through displacement mechanisms, the promotion of addictions, targeting vulnerable consumer groups and more.” , says Finn Myrstad, director of digital policy at NCC.

Despite the fact that the video game industry is an important branch of the economy, it has largely escaped regulatory control. “The prevailing business models are technically complex or new. Video games are considered by many authorities as a niche entertainment market.” Ultimately, governments and industry should take responsibility for ensuring a “safe environment for players”.

More news on the subject:

Every now and then something happens: In April 2018, the Belgian Gaming Commission ruled that loot boxes, such as those sold for real money in “FIFA” Ultimate Team mode, constitute a game of chance. And the court in The Hague ruled in October 2020 that the Dutch gaming authority EA can impose a fine of € 500,000 for each week the company sells loot boxes in the FIFA Ultimate Team. The verdict came later canceled again.

In fiscal year 2021, the publisher earned $ 1.62 billion on Ultimate Team modes.

More news on loot boxes.

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