where is their regulation in France?

In early June, the Consumer Defense Association UFC-Que Choisir and 19 of its European counterparts warned against the dangers of lootboxes, these surprising lootboxes in video games that players can buy online. They condemn items that encourage consumption “significant sums by exploiting the vulnerability of their young audience”especially “through aggressive marketing” and of “many cognitive imbalances”. According to them, minors represent a fragile public that is likely to develop some form of dependence on profit and not have the notion of the actual amount of money spent in a game.

a coincidence of the calendar, Diablo Immortal, released for free on mobile and PC on June 2, has since twisted players. These are in-app purchases that the game is packed with, which improves your chances of getting the best weapons in the game as you eliminate opponents. But the investment is not guaranteed because the items show up randomly. Videographer Bellular has calculated that you need to spend around $ 110,000 in the game to optimize a character to the maximum.

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Prohibited in Belgium and the Netherlands

Players have been complaining about this type of system for a few years now, which encourages them to spend astronomical sums with no guarantee of results. In 2020, two French lawyers sued Electronic Arts, the publisher of FIFA. The game offers to buy packages that randomly contain football cards, to build your team and thus meet other players. The lawyers condemn, among other things “forbidden lottery” available to minors and “misleading marketing practices”.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, lootboxes have been banned from selling since 2018 to protect the consumer and in particular “children’s mental health”. But in France, the issue has made little progress. The former president of the online gambling regulator (Arjel, since being replaced by the National Stakes Agency, ANJ), Charles Coppolani, was very concerned in 2017 about the risks “very close to those who characterize gambling addiction”, but no action has been taken since. In order to qualify as a game of chance, it is necessary to combine three criteria, ANJ recalls, with reference to the internal security code: a financial offer (purchase of a box), a public offer (the boxes are freely available) and the expectation of a gain. However, this last point is not met.

“The gain must have an inherited value, that is, it enriches you “, Details at World Frédéric Guerchoun, Legal Director of ANJ. While, for example, you can use a sum won at the casino to buy you a new car, it is (yet) not possible to do the same thanks to outfits and virtual objects. Steam’s online video game platform allows players to resell their items earned through lootboxes to other users via their internal market, but the money obtained remains in a closed loop: it can not be transferred to the user’s bank account and only allows him to purchase other items on the platform, such as video games of your choice.

Should the law be changed to better cover lootboxes? Not necessarily, according to ANJ, according to which lootboxes do not correspond to the very spirit of gambling that we play with “the idea that you will get rich”. But also because “Consumer law is already rich in legal instruments or tools that allow us to respond to the key concerns that we observe.”

Also read: Under pressure, the video game industry will make loot boxes more transparent

“Misleading odds of winning”

Consumer law thus considers it misleading for a company to make false claims “essential characteristics of the product or service”especially “its properties and the expected results of its use”. And it is at this point that the accusations of the UFC-Que Choisir, which condemns “misleading odds of winning”. When China in 2017 required publishers to show them clearly, many titles fell in line. But these numbers remain vague, as does FIFA, which for some packages offered is content to evoke a probability “less than 1%” to get the best win. However, the chances of winning the jackpot are very different depending on whether they are 0.9% or 0.001%.

Asked in 2019 by Senator Les Républicains Arnaud Bazin, the Ministry of Economy and Finance acknowledges that lootboxes “raise the issue of consumer information”, especially because “the price displayed during the first acquisition of the game is then very far from the expense that the player will ultimately bear”. But there is no need to legislate further, according to Bercy, the current texts allowing the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and the Prevention of Fraud (DGCCRF) to “if necessary, sanction any deficiencies which can be identified on the market during inspections”. The reason why nothing seems to have changed since, the debate resurfaces today with fears similar to those of 2017.

On their side, publishers are in favor of self-regulation, such as the one practiced on PEGI, the European classification that indicates the recommended minimum age for a video game. In 2020 is mentioned “In-app purchases: include random content” thus appeared on the covers. With simple informative value, it does not prevent minors from accessing it. Game publishers are flirting with the limits of a vague legal framework, and with good reason: thanks to lootboxes, they earned more than $ 15 billion by 2020, according to research firm Juniper Research, or about 10% of their revenue.

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