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German Authorities Are Considering a Ban On Loot Boxes (heise.de) 106

Slashdot reader Qbertino writes: Heise reports that German authorities are examining loot boxes in video games and considering banning them in the country. Loot boxes might actually even violate laws against calls-to-purchase aimed directly towards minors that are already in effect. German authorities are also checking that. Loot boxes are randomized in-game item purchases that many people consider a form of gambling. The decision to take action against loot boxes in Germany is expected in March. Germany's Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body has since clarified that Germany authorities are not considering a general ban on loot boxes, but are actually examining regulations of online advertising and purchasing as a whole.

"A closer look at the discussion is taking place, ie., if there are any specific risks and where to locate them legally. As part of that analysis the KJM (governmental institution responsible for youth protection regarding to online content/services) is taking a closer look at permitted and prohibited advertising in shop offerings. However these rules apply to online purchases in general, thus also to loot boxes," the rep said. "In the German debate this term [loot box] refers to a broad variety of different in-game or even just game-related purchase systems with more or less randomized items. Hence one cannot say that 'loot boxes' violate German laws, as each integration has to be evaluated as separate case."

German Authorities Are Considering a Ban On Loot Boxes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 11, 2018 @05:33AM (#56103415)

    Never too early to exploit children, addiction, and lax laws. This is the holy trifecta of making stockholders happy.

  • Idea for the US (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 11, 2018 @05:44AM (#56103437)

    My idea for the US: Just tell the state gaming commissions about loot boxes, and this problem will solve itself about 24 hours after the gaming commission shows up at the publisher's offices demanding to audit the code AND to have their slice of the pie, unless the publisher ceases and desists using loot boxes immediately.

    • You would have to convince the gaming commissions that the items in the boxes were items of monetary value. Otherwise it's not gambling . . .

      • In-Game loot boxes that require no purchase are one thing. Paying real money for a box with a random chance of getting something is something else. It's most definitely assigning a monetary value to the box and its contents.

        • That's not how it works. Gambling (as defined by law, perhaps deviating from the normal use of the word) has to be a game of chance where the prize is something of independent monetary value.

    • But don't blanket ban them. Every game is different. If you can earn them in-game without cash then why ban that?

      • The earning them in game without cash is not the problem and likely never will be (watch, there is a game company already saying "hold my beer"). It's the fact that they also sell the loot boxes and separately, at much greater cost for the contents you actually want, for cash that's the problem. You may get that item that's "worth" $40, if you were to purchase it directly, for $5 worth of loot boxes, but you probably will not. That's why it's gambling.

    • They will give a slice of the pie to to piliticians and that will be the end of it.

  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @05:55AM (#56103457)
    It is gambling and it is a cynical attempt to screw the player to pay more money to unlock a game they've already paid for. So I'd be glad if they banned it, though Germany should be aiming for EU wide legislation.

    I'd also like to see laws that ban virtual currencies which are purchased with real cash. And require gaming services (which includes appstores etc.) to enforce limits on the amount that anyone can purchase in-game in any given month. And worded to prevent bullshit circumvention of the limits. The limits could be set by the age rating of the game - the lower the rating, the lower the limit.

    Such things might motivate companies to start producing games again instead of skinner boxes designed to target whales and compulsive gamblers.

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @07:42AM (#56103611) Homepage

      It is gambling and it is a cynical attempt to screw the player to pay more money to unlock a game they've already paid for. So I'd be glad if they banned it, though Germany should be aiming for EU wide legislation.
      I'd also like to see laws that ban virtual currencies which are purchased with real cash.

      That would be too much nanny state for me, if you want to spend real world cash on virtual trinkets you should be allowed to do that. We don't generally restrict obsessive real world collectors either. What they should ban - and I really think this is deserving of a blanket ban - is the randomized rewards. You want to sell the loot in the loot boxes individually, so people can see the actual price of what they're buying that's fine. If you want to sell loot boxes then you go under all the same rules and restrictions as lotteries and gambling sites.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DrXym ( 126579 )
        I didn't say ban buying virtual trinkets. I said ban virtual currencies which are purchased with real cash.

        So an end to the bullshit in games like "buy a handful of star berries 10x - $5, a bushel of star berries - 50x - $20, a grove of star berries - 150x - $50, a forest of star berries (BEST VALUE!) - 500x - $150".

        You could still buy the trinkets but they should be a direct cash transaction that you pay the exact amount for. That way you know much you're paying and you're not buying an excess of virt

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          You could still buy the trinkets but they should be a direct cash transaction that you pay the exact amount for. That way you know much you're paying and you're not buying an excess of virtual scrip in order to do it.

          To me that sounds really annoying and like it'd give less overview to charge a few cents to my credit card every time I want something. For me I think it's better to have a few, bigger commit decisions to say "Do I really want to spend $20 on star berries?" and if I do well they're basically written off in my mind. By which I mean that even though I may have in-game currency I don't consider it an asset that could be converted back into dollars. More like a beer at the pub, I can drink it or pour it out but

          • To me that sounds really annoying and like it'd give less overview to charge a few cents to my credit card every time I want something.

            IMO this should be done the way prepaid cellphones work. You "fill up" your account with $20, then can buy the skins etc. However, it should not convert the $20 into star berries or whatever, so you always see the price in dollars (or euros or whatever).

            in GTA you'd buy supersports cars for a few bucks

            So? You are buying a virtual car for a few bucks, not a real one.

            In my opinion, this should help people remember the amount of money they paid for stuff. Take a kid for example, his parents bought him 50 star berries for $20 and he spent 25 berries for some

            • Ok, it took me a bit to figure out where you were going with this. It sounds like you're seeing the virtual currencies as a shell game to hide the real cost of transactions. So you not against allowing to put a fixed amount into a game as a "fill up," for lack of a better term, but saying that the amount should always be shown in real dollars (or other local national currency) so that people always know the real cost of an item they're purchasing.

              I think you have something with this because, I didn't real

          • by DrXym ( 126579 )
            It doesn't make it any harder for a parent to gift a kid. I could load the Play store with $10 of credit and the kid can spend it in-game if they so desire. I could even avoid crediting Play if the account was set with a $10 purchase limit that was deducted from the card as it was used.

            I don't see why it should cost any more to do this. If anything it would be less because you could purchase the item with the exact amount rather than overspending and being ripped off by the difference.

            The main purpose o

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Most (not all) games that have a premium currency have a way to earn it that doesn't involve cash, for example, by watching ads (and often just providing a stipend to regular players in the hope that if they stay around and invest enough of their time, they'll drop a few dollars in the long term.) So what you'd effectively do by banning premium currencies is ban being able to play F2P games for free.

          That seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to me. And I doubt it'd help with preventing frau

          • It took me a bit to figure out his argument but, he's not against having virtual accounts in a game that you can earn rewards from. He's saying that if the virtual amount can be purchased with cash that the real dollar (euro, etc.) value must always be shown. If the currency is completely virtual and cannot be purchased with cash then, they can most do what they want.

          • by DrXym ( 126579 )
            I don't see how your argument holds any sway. There is nothing to stop a game from gifting you something if you watch an ad. It certainly doesn't justify that virtual currency should be purchased with real cash.

            Nor does it ban being able to play F2P games. If you want to play those games you carry on playing those games. Except when you buy the boosters you do so with real cash instead of pretend coins that you must purchase in amounts that exceed the thing you want to buy.

      • by AC-x ( 735297 )

        We don't generally restrict obsessive real world collectors either.

        We do generally restrict products that are compulsive though, such as tobacco and (the relevant one) gambling...

      • OK, let's say we are going to do this and ban randomized rewards. Let's also say we are going to make Kjella the person that gets to write a formal definition of "reward" so that developers can follow it. Let's also say that Kjella gets final say on any appeal by a developer.

        So then, what counts a reward? Some examples:

        • In WOW and Diablo Online, monsters drop random items when you kill them
        • In OverWatch, you can buy boxes with random cosmetic items such as decals/colors but they don't impact whether you win
        • Simple, to use some of your examples: In WoW and Diablo Online, whether you pay a yearly subscription or farm gold to pay for your account, you face the same random number generator and there's no extra cash, extra possible reward. The extra items that are available for real money, likes battle pets and mounts in WoW, are a fixed price given in real dollars. In OverWatch, it may not be "pay to win" (something I do very much give Blizzard credit for) but, instead of their cosmetic items being a fixed pric

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @01:52PM (#56104747)

        That would be too much nanny state for me, if you want to spend real world cash on virtual trinkets you should be allowed to do that. We don't generally restrict obsessive real world collectors either.

        Psychologists have known for decades that the more you can disassociate the purchase from the actual transfer of cash, the more people will spend. People have a tendency to spend more carelessly (and thus spend more) when you disassociate the act of purchasing from the physical act of real cash leaving your possession.

        Marketers know this and try to exploit it to generate more sales. This is why Disney likes to sell things in Disney Dollars, why casinos use chips, why some people get in trouble with credit card debt, why you can accidentally overspend when visiting a foreign country and paying with foreign cash. Regulators know it too and cast a wary eye towards anything which exploits it, especially if it involves gambling in the virtual currency.

        I'm libertarian and pretty anti-nanny state too. But preventing exploitation of faults in basic human nature which causes people to harm themselves by acting irrationally is precisely one of the things government should be doing. We want to go see the wild rushing river during a flood despite the danger, so the government sends police to keep people away from it. We can get addicted to certain substances, so government regulates or prohibits its distribution. We enjoy the thrill of tempting death by bungee jumping, sky diving, or riding roller coasters. So the government regulates these things to assume minimum safety standards are met. And virtual currencies tend to exacerbate gambling problems, so the government keeps it on a short leash to prevent its widespread exploitation.

        What they should ban - and I really think this is deserving of a blanket ban - is the randomized rewards. You want to sell the loot in the loot boxes individually, so people can see the actual price of what they're buying that's fine. If you want to sell loot boxes then you go under all the same rules and restrictions as lotteries and gambling sites.

        That changes the game from being non-deterministic to deterministic [wikipedia.org]. Randomized rewards (e..g loot drop from game bosses, whether a basketball player can make that basket, whether a billiards player can make that shot, what hand you're dealt in poker, etc) are what makes a game non-deterministic. And for many (most) people, are the only thing that makes the game interesting. Eliminate randomness and you're basically playing glorified tic tac toe (chess is deterministic, and is only challenging because the number of possible outcomes exceeds our ability to simultaneously comprehend).

        • But preventing exploitation of faults in basic human nature which causes people to harm themselves by acting irrationally is precisely one of the things government should be doing.

          You don't want people to be exploited, great. That's a laudable goal. The paternalistic methods the government employs in its attempt to achieve this goal, however, are much less laudable. Baby-proofing the world is not the answer. It's a never-ending task, and you can't do it without infringing on everyone's rights.

          If you don't want people to be exploited you should instead offer assistance to the people you think are at risk; warn them about the risk and, with their consent, help them to guard themselves

          • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

            Baby-proofing the world is not the answer. It's a never-ending task, and you can't do it without infringing on everyone's rights.

            Good thing that's a total straw man, then.

      • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @04:25PM (#56105285)
        is another's protecting the psychologically vulnerable. Half of mobile game revenue comes from just 0.19% of players [wired.co.uk]. When you've got numbers like that something is very, very wrong.
        • Half of mobile game revenue comes from just 0.19% of players. When you've got numbers like that something is very, very wrong.

          And what, exactly, is "very wrong"? That 0.19% of players are complete idiots? Or that 99.81% are fairly sensible?

          Personally, I wouldn't have been surprised if the "idiot fraction" were much larger than one in 500, and it doesn't terribly bother me that one person in 500 is dumb enough to try to pay cash to "win"....

          • When numbers are that skewed on something, it always warrants an investigation into the cause to see if action is needed. In this case, to see if companies are intentionally, and possibly illegally, exploiting 0.19% of the population to make their bottom line. Now, like I said, it needs to be investigated to be sure, but, given the fact that the companies are most likely patterning their games specifically to take advantage of people with a gambling addiction problem by making their games a very exploitiv

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah! Let's ban everything! And outlaw the rest!

    • it is a cynical attempt to screw the player to pay more money to unlock a game they've already paid for

      What if you haven't actually paid full price for the game yet? Even if you only consider inflation, a AAA title that cost $60 in 2005 should cost ~$75 in 2016 dollars. If anything $75 is low, as production and marketing budgets have grown faster than the rate of inflation. Extra Credits (a game design Youtube channel) did a really interesting episode on this a few weeks ago. [youtube.com] Their next episode is about why publishers can't just slash their budgets to get the price of the game down - worth checking out if

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        Even if you only consider inflation, a AAA title that cost $60 in 2005 should cost ~$75 in 2016 dollars.

        Except: the game industry is much larger now than in 2006, and what used to be released as free content to keep sales going for existing games (expansion packs) is now being nickel and dimed as DLC.

  • The Duke. (Score:4, Funny)

    by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @06:27AM (#56103511)
    Duke Nukem doesn't have loot boxes and I like it that way. Come get some!
    • by mjwx ( 966435 )
      I'm an avid gamer... but I've got no idea what these loot boxes are? I spent over 8 hours yesterday playing Endless Space 2 (and must have sunk at least another 2 into Cities Skylines) but none of them seem to have anything like this. I'm assuming it's another pay to win scheme that has become common in online FPS's (which is why I rarely play them these days) but by the sounds of it, they aren't keeping up their "to win" side of the bargain.
  • It is that simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kurkosdr ( 2378710 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @06:28AM (#56103513)
    Guys, it's simple: Games with loot boxes are targeting the same demographic that slot machines and roulletes do (real and virtual), only they do it without paying a gambling tax and without any age restrictions, so the governments are considering a ban on them to protect their tax revenue, they didn't magically start to care about the predatory nature of loot boxes or anything.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Guys, it's simple: Games with loot boxes are targeting the same demographic that slot machines and roulletes do (real and virtual), only they do it without paying a gambling tax and without any age restrictions, so the governments are considering a ban on them to protect their tax revenue, they didn't magically start to care about the predatory nature of loot boxes or anything.

      Big difference compared to slot machines. Those are played alone, player vs. machine. Many loot boxes in online games offer a competitive advantage. Its not about gambling against the machine, its paying to affect the competition between players. Loot boxes just add some randomness to how much money is needed to win.

    • 1. The age and additional restrictions would apply, so children could not gamble (as children are more susceptible to gambling addiction).
      2. Physical casinos pay taxes, online casinos pay taxes, why should some other online casinos (games with loot boxes) not pay taxes?

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        1. The age and additional restrictions would apply

        How. It's easy enough to spot a 12 year old walking up to a blackjack table - how would you do this for a MMO with loot boxes?

        • Well, first of all, any game that has loot boxes should be classified for adults only by the rating system (the same as a porn game etc), which means that a minor will not be able to buy it. The parents may buy the game for their kid if they want, but then at least they will be warned ("WARNING: contains gambling with real money"). After all, a lot of games are already age restricted (violence, sex etc), so there should not be any gambling games that are rated as OK for minors.

          As for a MMO with loot boxes -

    • it's also heavily regulated. You're glossing over that by ending your post with a cynical stab at those regulations. If this was just about the government getting their cut there's ways to go about it without riling up the neck beards. The government really does have a legitimate interest in keeping children away from gambling. As a voter, a gamer and a parent I _want_ to see this regulated. I don't trust the game industry to do it themselves. They're a lot bigger than they were in the 90s when they backed
  • table can't fix. Danke.

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @07:09AM (#56103563)

    I'm actually impressed that they're evaluating individual systems and mechanics, rather than doing a blanket ban, which would be easier but catch relatively-moral implementations (e.g. loot boxes that can only be purchased with ingame currency.)
    Hopefully they'll extend the restrictions to other Gacha and 'blind box' systems in games and for physical items as well. Blind boxes sold in stores tend to have their contents opened/stolen by children more than other toys. It's marketed as a 'surprise' which is ostensibly beneficial, but in practice it becomes anxiety that you'll have wasted your money on a duplicate; having different rarities on different items in a set makes it clear which of the two is the actual intent. Gacha is psychological manipulation for profit. The Monopoly game that McDonalds does is the same thing.

    • Wonka's "golden ticket" would also be banned under these rules. Clearly it had an unhealthy effect on kids.

      I'd be interested to see what the criteria are though. For instance: Battlefield 4 has loot boxes that you can win in-game but also buy in the store, however regular playes will collect more than enough of then during play, and I don't know of a single player who has ever spent any money to purchase them. The items in those boxes are useful but are not particularly rare, and cannot be traded. Not
  • Who are they to decide where my money goes? I want loot boxes dammit! Feed my addiction. The golden age of apathy is upon us if we have gambling taken away from us and we let them.
  • Trading Cards? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @08:30AM (#56103685) Homepage Journal

    Are trading card packs different except for being physical objects? You buy a pack of cards with a chance of getting a rare card. It's the exact same idea.

    What about mystery minifig LEGO collector series? While you might be able to feel which figure you're getting, it's designed to be a surprise, so you don't know what you're getting. It's not quite the same thing, but it's close.

    Are we going to ban all mystery sales?

    Perhaps that's a good idea, but let's think this through.

    Or perhaps we treat online sales differently as they cater more to the gambling mentality due to being instantly available at any time. It may not be fair, but it is addressing a practical problem in a practical way.

    • by Ormy ( 1430821 )
      I would mod you up but I've run out of points. When I was a kid in the early 1990s (in the UK) all the other kids were spending tons of money on football trading cards (soccer for you yanks). It was random whether you had bought decent cards or not. How are these loot boxes any different?
      • Trading cards are of limited flexibility and scope. They're also physical, and production is far lower, so their range of exposure is very low. Loot boxes can show up in basically any game, for nil cost. That makes them far more pervasive.

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        How are these loot boxes any different?

        Very different. Your friends could sell or trade their unwanted football cards....can't do that with Battlefront loot boxes as they're tied to your account. And with physical cards at a store, the publisher couldn't manipulate odds on the fly to keep you buying - but that's trivial for a software company.

        i.e. you start playing and have a 1 in 5 chance of getting a good loot item like a Kyber Crystal. But if you're close to completing a set, you could see your odds r

    • Re:Trading Cards? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 11, 2018 @09:43AM (#56103857)

      Are trading card packs different except for being physical objects? You buy a pack of cards with a chance of getting a rare card. It's the exact same idea.

      I would say yes.

      I know that I was tricked into spending way more money on them than I would have if I had been old enough to understand the gambling part of that industry.
      Sure, a lot of people associate trading cards with their childhood and look at them with nostalgia but in essence it is nothing more than immoral people preying on children that doesn't understand better.

      • Yes, nostalgia is the main reason here. But that will properly protect us prom legislators going overboard and ban the toys of their childhood.

        But there are differences: The classic Pannini images were evenly distributed. So with a large enough network at the schoolyardyou could trade for the ones you needed without being ripped off. And you could mail order the last missing ones for your album, so you did not hunt down the last one missing by buying and buying again.

        Most important: you wouldn't go on infin

        • by Anonymous Coward

          If you go back far enough, "the toys of your childhood" might be lead paint, cigarettes or working in mines.

    • Ban the Kinder Egg! Oh, wait, someone already did that...

    • by fazig ( 2909523 )
      Did you RTFA?

      Hence one cannot say that 'loot boxes' violate German laws, as each integration has to be evaluated as separate case.

      Hence no blanket bans.
      Anyway trading cards are pretty much in the same bracket. There you have the competitive nature of the game, which compels you to develop better tactics and strategies. That in itself was certainly a good aspect of the game, because it made you think. Unfortunately this often involves getting the proper cards for your deck, which costs money. Then there's

    • Probably not, but the chances with the card packs and the Lego minifigs aren't as loaded as loot boxes are, IIRC from my youthful days. That was last century, so maybe things have changed.

      The crowd of boys at school would trade and share, fight and steal from each other to get a complete collection and we would succeed without buying ten thousand packs each. The cards were random, but spread fairly evenly and I doubt they printed only two Maradona cards in total for example.

      The loot boxes seem to have gon

    • which makes it a lot easier to get a full set. Also there are finite limits to them (e.g. the set). Also most of them publish their card distribution / drop rates, so you can calculate how much a full set would cost.
    • Banning mystery sales would not be a bad idea. I think it should ne clear what you are buying. Yes, that would mean they must say what is in you Kinderchocoladr-egg or any surprize "prize".
      As you might know, we in Europe, even know what we are going to pay, so what you see as price is what you pay.

      It would be good if you know at the moment of purchase what exactly you are going to get.

    • by Xarius ( 691264 )

      It's probably only a difference of degrees.

      Your local corner shops probably didn't employee addiction specialists, teams of psychologists, design their stores in such a way that subliminally pressured you, buy databases of information about you and harvest even more just in an effort to sell you these things.

  • A ban on collector cards, and gaming cards too?
  • don't have the problems loot boxes do. I think it's because buying into the game and buying a pack of cards are the same thing; so everybody does it. If you want to play Magic you buy card packs. But with loot boxes most people play the game without buying them. That pattern becomes the norm and encourages mechanics that target the "Whales" who spend large sums. Supposedly something like 0.19% of users account for 50% of mobile game revenue. That can't be healthy, and loot box mechanics come from that schoo
  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Sunday February 11, 2018 @06:52PM (#56105725) Journal
    From history, comments to freedom after speech, news on social media.
    Now Germany wants to enforce its laws on computer games?
    Time to see what German censorship is and publish around it.

The solution of problems is the most characteristic and peculiar sort of voluntary thinking. -- William James

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