A report commissioned by the European Union, which it was approved with 577 votes in favor, 56 against and 15 abstentionscalls for steps to be taken to give parents and guardians more information and control over the online video games their children are playing, as well as the money they are spending on them.
The main risk identified in the report are the products that are offered within the videogames themselves because they can promote gambling addiction.
The Norwegian Consumer Council concluded that these practices, often known as loot boxes, violate the rights of consumers within the European market. Virtual chests, sticker packs with soccer players, card packs or boxes with new weapon skins… Numerous online video games offer the possibility of acquiring mystery packages containing coveted in-game items for real money.
Protect children from loot boxes
Are loot boxes can usually be purchased with the currency of the game itself, but usually the developers encourage the purchase of boxes or, even, they encourage the most vulnerable to do so with unethical tactics: minors.
One only has to observe the leading role played by all the free video game object stores such as Fortnite, Counter-Strike, FIFA either League of Legends in its interface. Although the possibility of winning real money is not provided, players are gambling like in a casino every time they buy a jack-in-the-box. In this case, they are acquiring the possibility of obtaining a skin for their champion of lower or higher value, usually cataloged by the video game itself with a category and color according to its rarity or probability.
In some cases, whoever wants to get a specific skin, character, card or football player You will have to continue playing roulette indefinitely. with real money or spending hundreds of hours. The operation is identical to that of the sticker albums, but with the credit card and without the direct knowledge of the parents, who cannot always discern exactly what their children are buying since it is nothing tangible.
The PSOE MEP Adriana Maldonado, who has led the preparation of the report, points out that its objective is to “highlight the positive points of this pioneering industry, but also the social risks that we have to take into account such as the impact they have on Mental health”.
Black market and exploitation within online video games
Video games no longer live inside cartridges, in the same way that movies no longer live inside DVDs and music on CDs. This has made developers not focus on sales of a single product, but on monthly users, such as social networks, to extend the profits of each title. Their work is profitable with the cosmetic shops or the “battle passes”, which offer certain objects that help the player or give them a certain status within it. In some cases, these can be acquired by investing many hours of play and require some skill.
Badges in Apex Legends, a rank in Counter-Strike ranked matches, a weapon in Destiny 2, or an item in World of Warcraft are coveted status symbols that promote black market trading. That is to say, a player can pay another real money for him to get in his account what he can’t due to lack of time or skill.
This practice is pursued in the main titles, but it is easy to find such services on Ebay. In addition to establishing a link between gambling and the black market, the report notes that it could also be related to abuse: a child may be gambling to earn real money.
Safeguard the mental health of minors
The European Parliament requests better parental control tools, in line with the Age Classification system (PEGI), that allow parents have more control over their children’s gaming habits and better monitor the time and money they spend on online video games.
Bearing in mind the possible negative impact of video games on the mental health of all gamers, but especially the youngest ones, MEPs want game designers to avoid creating manipulative titles or mechanics that can lead to addiction, isolation or cyber bullying.
The only objective before was to entertain the maximum number of hours possible, until Christmas or birthday arrived to buy another cartridge. But now online video games work like social networks, and its goal is to keep the player inside for the maximum number of hours possible regardless of whether it is optimal to use these psychological tricks on people who have not yet formed and mastered their reward systems.
The phenomenon is fed back thanks to the popularity of the streamers Y youtubers that indirectly promote playing video games. some open lootboxes live or on YouTube videos because it is attractive content, but it is very similar to gambling promotion, the practice of which would be prohibited by European law.
Data protection and vulnerable groups in online video games
Parliamentarians insist that online video games must better protect the information it obtains from its users and ensure its compliance under the GDPR.
They also point out the need to ensure that the most vulnerable groups are protected by making them more accessible and plural, as well as avoiding creating possible situations of harassment and exclusion in video game design and controlling what is said and how people act within it. Some kid-friendly titles, which offer the ability to create custom levels online, sometimes indirectly allow kids to watch, hear, or experience situations that are clearly not kid-friendly.
Support the video game industry
The Commission know the importance and benefits of this industry, which years ago exceeded that of music and cinema in income. That is why it intends to adopt a strategy that supports the more than 90,000 jobs in Europe that depend on video games through the creation of an annual awards gala and a certification for the best European video game.
Although the main studios are and depend on American and Japanese multinationals, Europe has industry heavyweights such as Ubisoft or CD Project, as well as having representation and offices within the Union of major companies such as Riot Games, Microsoft or Nintendo.