A Norwegian Consumer Council report analysing the ‘predatory’ nature of loot boxes and how they foster addiction has received the support of consumer groups from 18 European countries, with these groups now calling on individual governments to instil tougher regulation on these in-game features.
‘Insert Coin: How the Gaming Industry Exploits Consumers Using Loot Boxes’ claims that loot boxes are exploiting consumers, including those vulnerable to gambling addiction, by using virtual currencies that distort the perception of monetary costs and exploiting ‘cognitive biases and vulnerabilities’ by design.
The report calls for direct regulation by government bodies, and new scrutiny that directly addresses the potential harm loot boxes may cause.
‘Over the past two decades, in-game purchases – in-game sales of additional digital content – have become a major source of revenue for the industry, generating more than USD 15 billion in 2020,’ the report reads. ‘Despite being a major industry, the video game sector has largely evaded regulatory scrutiny. Prevailing business models are technically complex or novel. Video games are considered a niche entertainment market by many authorities.’
‘Due to the sheer size of the market and the number of affected consumers, national and EU authorities should prioritise regulatory investigations and interventions. We call for a number of measures, including a ban on deceptive design, extra protections for minors, and transactional transparency. Authorities and industry must take responsibility to ensure a safe environment for gamers’
Consumer groups from the follow countries have expressed active support for the Norwegian Consumer Council’s analysis: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Each is working with the NCC going forward, alongside the European Consumer Organisation.
FIFA 22 and Raid: Shadow Legends have been directly called out by the report, which claims both games use ‘tricks’ to exploit consumers and force them to spend money on the chance they’ll get rare items and other rewards. While the report does not call for an outright ban, it does raise concerns about how these features are implemented going forward.
The push follows recent trends in Europe, with countries like Belgium outright banning loot boxes in 2018, and the Netherlands attempting the same (this legislation was recently overturned). As a result of these decisions, recent release Diablo Immortal, which contains loot boxes, was banned in both countries.
So far, it’s unclear what the result of this renewed push will be – but given the united front, it’s likely some measure of action will hit parliaments across Europe over the coming months or years. Loot boxes are becoming a regular feature in even paid games lately, and some measure of oversight is certainly warranted as aggressive monetisation begins ramping up around the world.