Mystery chests that dangle the possibility of evolving with the avatars of the best footballers in the Fifa game, bonuses that allow you to discreetly exchange a few letters on the Scrabble mobile application, magic packs to boost your score in “Candy Crush ”… Many video game fans fall for“ loot boxes ”, these virtual rewards that they can obtain in exchange for euros which are themselves very real.
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In the European Parliament on Tuesday, October 27, MEPs from the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) are examining the subject for the first time, discussing a study entitled “Loot boxes” in online games and their effects on consumers, in particular on young people ”.
Addictive “loot boxes”
Based in Berlin, Annette Cerulli-Harms, who works for the ConPolicy institute, is one of the authors of this 56-page study which unveils the pitfalls of these “loot boxes” with random content which are very lucrative for video game makers, but also potentially addictive for users.
Whether they are codes allowing access to a higher level, costumes to dress a character and stand out from other players or weapons and other accessories that improve performance, these “loot boxes” sometimes lack transparency. , regrets the researcher, who does not hide that these surprise bags of a new kind could cause ” psychological and financial problems “. ” Sometimes gamers don’t really know what they’re buying and what they’re going to get », She adds.
A European regulator of video games?
Result: some of them spend astronomical sums to try – sometimes in vain – to advance in a game. As for children, who according to the study are 76% of 6-15 year olds to play video games in Europe (and 36% to spend money on it), they are even less inclined than adults to understand what type of mechanisms they are pinpointing.
” Loot boxes are extremely widespread, they are found in most of the games launched today, whereas twenty years ago, this problem did not exist Says David Zendle, researcher in the Department of Computer Science at York University. It is certain: ” The more people spend in loot boxes, the more they tend to have money problems in general. ”
Three Member States – Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovakia – moreover consider, in their national legislation, that “loot boxes” are games of chance. ” The internal market is fragmenting around this issue “, Notes Annette Cerulli-Harms, who expects the European Commission to” finds solutions that apply across the Union “.
David Zendle thinks for his part that the Old Continent should equip itself with a European regulator of video games, ” bringing together specialists who would know which mechanisms are harmful and which are acceptable “.
A still unknown concept
If the regulation of games of chance remains a national competence, the European executive is competent in matters of consumer protection. It is through this prism that Europe could slow down the appearance of these “loot boxes” which, according to Annette Cerulli-Harms, “ sometimes play with behavioral biases and can lead to playing longer or spending more than wanted “.
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In the offices of Didier Reynders, European Commissioner responsible for consumer protection, “loot boxes” still remain a rather vague and little-known concept, but if the MEPs take up this problem and draw up an own-initiative report to breathe life into Commission the idea of legislating, the file could move forward quickly.