Belgium Threatens FIFA 18, CS:GO and Overwatch with Punishment for Loot Box Practices

Shortly after a decisive ruling from the Netherlands regarding several game loot boxes, the Belgium loot box ruling has come down with a similarly hard line. The decision by the country’s gaming commission names three major titles as violators of its gambling laws, and is threatening fines and imprisonment if things aren’t changed.

belgium loot box ruling

FIFA 18, Counter-Strike: Global Offenssive, and Overwatch have been called out for violation of Belgian gambling laws according to the findings of the Belgian Gaming Commission. The decision was based on four different criteria: being a game, with something at stake, leading to a win or a loss, and with chance playing a role.

Star Wars Battlefront II was also under the microscope, but was exempt from the commission’s rulings due to the removal of paid loot boxes.

“Paid loot boxes aren’t an inoffensive component of games which act like games that require skill,” says the commission’s director Peter Naessens. “Players are being tempted and misguided and none of the protective measures for gambling are being applied.”

As a result of the findings, the publishers of these games must make adjustments or face fines of €800.000 or up to five years of imprisonment. The charges could even be doubled if it can be proved that those who are taken advantage of were minors. There’s no timeline for when these changes must be made.

Our Thoughts

So the screws of the vice turn a few more threads to tighten around loot box practices. There are many of us who are happy to see these firm and decisive crackdowns and we’re hoping that other countries around the globe will be following suit.

Source: De Standard via WCCF Tech

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Russian Government Blocks of Telegram App Sever Connections to Multiple MMORPGs

As a result of a government-led Telegram app shut down effort, Russian MMORPG fans are experiencing a variety of outages to several titles as well as severed access to streaming services in a form of digital collateral damage from the Russian government agency’s actions.

telegram app shut down

Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s telecommunications watchdog group, began blocking over 20 million Google and Amazon IP addresses in an attempt to cut off Telegram. Telegram is a messaging app that lets players of the cryptocurrency market contact one another with encrypted messaging – a circumvention of Russian government tracking policies.

As a result of these IP blocks, users of a variety of unrelated services are being caught in the crossfire. Access to online retailers and sites like Netflix and Twitch are suddenly being cut off, along with connections to gaming services like the Playstation Network, Battle.net, and Xbox Live. Reports are also coming in from Russian MMORPG players who are now unable to fire up games like Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and World of Tanks.

As for the Telegram app, it’s still apparently running and can continue to be used with proxy or VPNs to circumvent the current IP blocks. Telegram’s creator, Pavel Durov, is even donating what he says will be “millions of dollars of personal funds” to proxy and VPN admins in the interest of protecting digital freedoms.

Our Thoughts

This is a pretty strong illustration of how easily we can take connections to things for granted. We definitely hope that Russian MMO fans are able to find ways around these intrusive practices and that access to unrelated services are restored soon.

Source: Coin Telegraph via Massively Overpowered

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New Hampshire Senator Challenges ESRB to Re-Examine Loot Boxes

We already know that about the ESRB loot box stance, which amounted to a shrug of the shoulders and a heartfelt “meh”. Now a Senator from the state of New Hampshire is joining recent efforts from the US and the world to call for better oversight.

esrb loot box

In an open letter to the ESRB, New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan has called for the group to look into whether or not game publishers and developers are marketing loot boxes in “an ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices.”

While Hassan would not classify loot boxes as gambling outright, she did express concern with “psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance” and acknowledged that loot boxes can become an expensive habit and that they present potential harm.

The ESRB responded to the letter, offering assurance that the group is changing with the times. “As the industry evolves, so does our rating system, and we will continue to make enhancements to ensure parents continue to be well-informed,” reads part of the response. “We will also continue to provide information about additional tools, including parental control guides, that help parents set spending and time limits and block potentially inappropriate games based on the ESRB-assigned age rating.”

Our Thoughts

The ESRB’s response does raise a reasonable point in that parents should indeed take more agency in what their children are playing and better sources of information may be helpful. However, both the ESRB and Sen. Hassan are missing a large part of the point on why loot boxes are predatory, as gambling-style mechanics can affect older minds just as deeply, if not moreso.

Source: Ars Technica via VG247

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Germany and Sweden Begin to Investigate Loot Boxes

Perhaps the initial firestorm has died down, but the heat is most assuredly still there on gaming loot box practices. In addition to moves being made by Hawaii and Belgium, it looks like we can now add Germany and Sweden to the list of governments pushing for legislative regulation of the practice.

gaming loot box practices

In Germany, a study by the University of Hamburg has found that certain gaming business models and industry sales were driven by a small portion of players – or in other words, they earned money via “a typical feature of gambling markets”.

As a result of these findings, it is “conceivable” that loot box practices violate existing regulations meant to protect children and adolescents according to Youth Protection Commissioner Wolfgang Kreißig. In response, publishers could face a blanket ban on releasing games that feature loot boxes. A decision on such a ban is expected to come this March.

Meanwhile in Sweden, Swedish Minister of Civil Affairs Ardalan Shekarabi will be asking authorities to investigate loot box practices to determine if there are enough similarities to constitute gambling.

“We are working to regain control of the gaming market as soon as possible and ensure that Swedish consumer protection rules apply to all actors involved in gaming,” said Shekarabi, who is hoping to have some form of legislation prepared for January 2019.

In spite of this, EA has confirmed during an investor’s call that loot boxes will return to Star Wars Battlefront II – the game that was the catalyst for the loot box conversation – in the coming months. “Digital economies have a place, and we will continue to drive and focus on that,” said EA CEO Andrew Wilson during the call. “The teams are working on how that context will apply to the Battlefront universe, but more on that in the months to come.”

Wilson also refuted reports that loot boxes were yanked from the game at the instruction of Disney, telling investors that the company has “a tremendous relationship with Disney” and that “you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the press.”

Our Thoughts

Don’t stop the pressure, folks! Loot boxes can see sweet, sweet death if we want it!

Sources: Welt via GamesIndustry, P3 News via VG247, VG247

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PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds May Be Blocked by China

Chinese players may not be able to see PUBG arrive to their shores in an official release if word from a Chinese gaming association is to be believed. According to a report, a Chinese PUBG launch is facing opposition as a result of its level of violence.

chinese pubg launch

The China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association has expressed its disapproval of Battlegrounds’ gameplay, deeming the battle royale title “harmful to young consumers” and a deviation of the values of socialism. The statement was made after consultation with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the regulatory body of China that also saw television programs like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Bojack Horseman” banned from the country.

While there is no official word from Bluehole Inc. or Tencent, which were previously said to be in talks with each other about releasing PUBG to China, Benjamin Wu, an analyst from Shanghai, has cast doubt on whether the game will ever make its way to Chinese players without use of a VPN. “This basically spells the death sentence for PUBG in China,” said Wu.

Our Thoughts

We’re certainly not ones to tell the Chinese government what can and cannot be allowed to their country. That said, while Tencent and Bluehole are likely not going to feel incredibly put off by this announcement, we do feel bad for Chinese players that perhaps enjoy PUBG and were hoping for a more stable connection to the title.

Source: Bloomberg via GamesIndustry

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UK Government Responds to Online Lockbox Petition

An online lockbox petition that was files in the middle of the month to the UK parliament has finally gotten its official response, and while it does bear a similarly non-committal tone to previous responses, this response does have a few more direct things to note.

online lockbox petition

While the response opens with another reference to a position paper published by the Gambling Commission in March of 2017, the response does also mention that the Video Standards Council Rating Board – the body that helps apply PEGI ratings to UK video game releases – will be working with the PEGI Council to see if games that simulate traditional gambling will require a sterner PEGI rating.

The Gambling Commission is also awaiting the results a survey regarding young people and gambling, which has questions specific to esports and video gaming. The governing body in question has stated intent to work with the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board to further investigate any connections between gambling and children.

Finally, the response refers back to a Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulation in 2008, which is expressly written to protect consumers from what it deems “misleading or aggressive marketing practices” such as “direct exhortation to buy products, such as games content, including in-game purchases such as loot boxes”.

Our Thoughts

The response can certainly be seen very much like a longer version of “wait and see”, but the continued efforts of the existing regulatory bodies and the 2008 Unfair Trading act could possibly pave an avenue for tighter controls on online loot box practices. Here’s hoping that’s the case, because the conversation should not stop on this matter.

Source: UK Parliament website via Eurogamer

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UK MP Questions on Gaming Loot Boxes Receive Responses

Yesterday we discovered that the gaming loot box discussion has slowly reached the ears of the UK’s Parliament. Part of that discussion involved questions asked by one of the country’s MPs to a UK regulatory board about their position on the practice. That board has responded, and that response bears a rather familiar tone.

gaming loot box

The responses were both written by Tracey Crouch, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In both repeated replies to questions posed by MP Daniel Zeichner, the reaction of the government appears to be a combination of “wait and see” and “go ask your mother”:

“Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling is one of the core objectives of the regulation of gambling in Great Britain and a priority for the government. The Gambling Commission have a range of regulatory powers to take action where illegal gambling is taking place.

“The government recognise the risks that come from increasing convergence between gambling and computer games. The Gambling Commission is keeping this matter under review and will continue to monitor developments in the market.”

The responses also reference a position paper published by the Gambling Commission in March of this year, which repeats the message that there are eyes on the matter as it develops.

Meanwhile, the online petition asking for gambling laws to be changed to include gaming loot boxes has yet to receive its required response from Parliament.

Our Thoughts

…and if the official response from government body to MP is anything to go by, the petition response will likely be just as dismissive as responses from other oversight committees like the ESRB.

So then the question is: where do gamers go from here to see loot box practices change? Do you have opinions on what steps can be taken, or have you resigned to the fact that loot boxes will just continue to be a thing?

Source: UK Parliament website via Eurogamer

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Loot Box Petition Forces UK Government Response

An online loot box petition asking that gambling laws adapt to include in-game lockboxes as gambling is expected to receive an official UK government response. The petition filed to the UK Parliament website has achieved the minimum 10k signatures required to receive an official response from Parliament.

loot box petition

The petition argues that loot boxes in games “are essentially gambling of which are targeted at children and vulnerable adults” and that they “copy many traits to make them as addictive” as what is considered “real” gambling.

In addition to the petition, Labour MP Daniel Zeichner has filed two questions to Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The questions ask what steps are being planned to protect “vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games”, along with an assessment on the effectiveness of regulations by the Isle of Man against the practice and whether those same protections have been discussed for use in the UK proper.

Currently, the Gambling Commission does not believe that loot boxes fall under the definition of gambling due to the items earned holding no real-world value. The response echoes a statement from the ESRB regarding the practice, which equates the opening of in-game loot boxes to opening a pack of cards for a CCG.

According to the petition website, the UK government has three days to issue a response. If the petition achieves 100k signatures, the matter could be brought up for debate in Parliament. As of this writing, the petition has just over 11k signatures and has a deadline of April 4th, 2018.

Our Thoughts

It would appear that loot box practices are finally getting on the nerves of enough people to demand some level of pushback, at least in the UK. It’s easy to assume that the official response will come off as dismissive, but if nothing else this appears to have raised the volume of discussion about the matter across the gaming world. Ideally, this will lead to changes in loot box practices, but only time will tell.

Source: Eurogamer

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