“Lootboxes” in video games: where is their regulation in France?

At the beginning of June, the consumer defense association UFC-Que Choisir and 19 of its European counterparts warned of the danger of lootboxes, these surprise loot boxes in video games that players can buy online. They denounce objects that encourage spending “significant sums of money by exploiting the vulnerabilities of their young audience”notably “through aggressive marketing” and of “many cognitive biases”. According to them, minors represent a fragile public, likely to develop a form of addiction to the lure of profit and not to have the notion of the concrete quantity of money spent in a game.

coincidence of the calendar, Diablo Immortal, released for free on mobile and PC on June 2, has since angered gamers. In question: the in-app purchases, which the game is full of, which improve your chances of obtaining the best weapons in the game when you eliminate the opponents. But the investment is not guaranteed because the objects appear randomly. Videographer Bellular has calculated that you have to spend around 110,000 dollars 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 packs, randomly containing football cards, to build your team and thus face other players. The lawyers denounce, among other things, a “prohibited lottery” accessible to minors and “deceptive marketing practices”.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, lootboxes have been banned from sale since 2018 to protect the consumer and in particular “children’s mental health”. But in France the question has made little progress. The former president of the online gaming regulatory authority (Arjel, since replaced by the National Stakes Agency, the ANJ), Charles Coppolani, was very worried in 2017 about the risks “very close to those that characterize addiction to gambling”, but no action has been taken since. Because to qualify something as a game of chance, it is necessary to combine three criteria, recalls the ANJ, citing the Internal Security Code: a financial sacrifice (the purchase of a box), a public offer (the boxes are freely accessible ) and the expectation of a gain. However, this last point is not fulfilled.

“The gain must have a heritage value, that is to say, it enriches you “, details at World Frédéric Guerchoun, legal director of the ANJ. While you can, for example, use a sum won at the casino to buy yourself a new car, it is not (yet) possible to do the same thing thanks to outfits and virtual objects. The Steam online video game platform does allow 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 cannot be transferred to the bank account. of the user and only allows him to buy other objects on the platform, such as the video game of his choice.

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

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“Misleading odds of winning”

The Consumer Code thus considers it misleading for a company to put forward false “essential characteristics of the good or service”notably “its properties and the results expected from its use”. And it is at this point that the accusations of the UFC-Que Choisir, which denounces “misleading odds of winning”. When China in 2017 required publishers to display them clearly, many titles fell into line. But these figures remain vague, like FIFA which, for certain packs offered, is content to evoke a probability “less than 1%” to get the best gain. However, the chances of winning the jackpot are very different depending on whether they are 0.9% or 0.001%.

Questioned in 2019 by Senator Les Républicains Arnaud Bazin, the Ministry of Economy and Finance recognizes that lootboxes “raise the question of consumer information”, especially because “the price displayed during the initial 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 Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) to “sanction as necessary any shortcomings which may be identified on the market during inspections”. Reason why nothing seems to have really changed since, the debate resurfacing today with fears similar to those of 2017.

On their side, the publishers advocate self-regulation, like that exercised on the PEGI, the European classification which indicates the minimum age recommended for a video game. In 2020, the mention “In-app purchases: includes random content” thus appeared on the covers. With simple informative value, it does not prevent minors from having access to it. Game publishers are flirting with the limits of a nebulous legal framework, and for good reason: thanks to lootboxes, they made more than 15 billion dollars in 2020, according to the research firm Juniper Research, or around 10% of their turnover.

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