Lawmakers and gaming regulators in Germany believe that loot boxes in video games amount to gambling, but haven’t put a law on the books to prevent them. Now, the country’s video game monitor is going to intervene, requiring games to carry labels to try to deter their accessibility to underage gamers.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, new rules will apply to entertainment software for new video games that arrive on the market. In the future, in addition to content relevant to the protection of minors, the presence of loot boxes will result in the game receiving a stricter rating to indicate it’s not suitable for children.
Loot boxes are virtual items, such as avatars, weapons, or powers that video game developers offer in certain games. FIFA’s line of soccer games, “Overwatch,” “Call of Duty: Mobile,” and “Asphalt 9” are just some examples of games that include them.
Gamers can purchase the items. However, until recently, they did so without knowing what they were going to receive. In a soccer game, it could be a pair of fancy cleats or the top soccer player in the world.
Germany’s video game monitor, the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK, for its German acronym), said in an announcement that the government action is part of a larger plan to mitigate the risks of video games. The country’s amended Youth Protection Act will thus be successfully put into practice together with authorities.
Loot Boxes Remain a Challenge
To give parents even more information about what their children are doing, the USK, an independent, non-government body, is establishing criteria that alters the video game market. Germany’s existing ratings, which force age verification for some ratings, will expand to include information on use and content.
In the future, parents will be able to easily see what led to the age rating. Currently, the system includes ratings similar to “PG” or “R” for movies that indicate the presence of violence and chat capability content that might be controversial or even innocuous.
Next, in-game purchases and location sharing will be part of the classification process. The USK explained that the information will appear on the back of the game packaging, as well as on the game developer or distributor’s website and in the USK title database.
The presence of the more “sensitive” criteria like loot boxes will lead to a higher age rating. Measures within the game to protect younger gamers can impact the result. More details and adjustments will be added as the system evolves.
As a co-founder of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), the USK has already established the concept of supplementary information in the online gaming segment. The IARC also includes the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the Australian Classification Board, and others.
Loot Boxes Still Debatable
Because of the uncertainty and ambiguity involving loot boxes, some argue that loot boxes are gambling. However, they lack a thorough understanding of the process.
Purchasing a loot box isn’t a requirement – they can be earned by trading points in the game. In addition, the majority of the loot box items offer no value inside the game and have no cash value outside, either.
This is why loot boxes remain controversial. The lack of a global definition of what constitutes gambling makes it difficult to apply standard parameters.
Germany is doing the next best thing. Last year, the government announced that it would introduce a ban on loot boxes, but then backed off as a discussion on the subject continued.
The country’s newly reformed Youth Protection Act will serve as a stopgap to protect younger gamers. The legislation introduces sweeping changes to the laws protecting those under 18, and the inclusion of the loot box classification by the USK will integrate well with the goals of the laws.
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