Europe takes protective measures

Facing the threat posed by the youngest, lawmakers want to regulate the video game sector. The goal: to maintain their mental health and protect them from certain commercial excesses.

Video games are a very profitable and growing sector. In 2020, in the European Union alone, its turnover was 23.3 billion euros, as Ouest France recalls. But its popularity does not only have a positive impact. While video games are great in terms of the arts, educational support, and entertainment, they can also pose serious problems, especially when it comes to the mental health of young people. The World Health Organization has officially recognized video game addiction as a disorder in its own right. The European Parliament decided to address the matter and published, on 18 January 2023, the conclusions of a report, which were adopted by 577 votes in favour, 56 votes against and 15 abstentions. Its goal: to drive the growth of the video game sector while strengthening the protection of players, especially the youngest, from harmful commercial practices and addictions.

Protection of minors: the fight against microtransactions

Different business practices in the video game sector, the consequences of which can be serious, are favored by the European Union. First, it demands that developers and publishers ensure that canceling a subscription is as easy as subscribing, and that the game’s purchase, return, and refund policies comply with European rules. . Therefore, “national authorities must end the illegal practice of allowing players to trade, sell, or bet on video game sites“.

Fortnite, or the perfect illustration of the microtransaction problem ©EpicGames

Another problem is the incentive to make in-game purchases, especially when they take advantage of their naivety and lack of knowledge. Last December, the United States Consumer Protection Agency (FTC) also pinned Epic Games and its games Fortnite, where everything is done to encourage players to make compulsive purchases (see our article). This is a problem we encounter in almost all games of this kind free to play with microtransactions – in short, they are free but players can buy items, equipment and costumes (skins) with real money. In particular, the agency called for the regulation, or even ban, of loot box (loot box in French), which lets you randomly acquire accessories for virtual or real payouts, because “Due to the random reward mechanism, loot boxes are very similar to gambling. Some may promote a move to gambling” and their practicemay be linked to financial crimes and human rights abuses”.

Video games: for a more player-friendly system

But these are not the only points the European Parliament wants to regulate, as it is determined to make the sector healthier. Thus, the industry must pay more attention to data protection, gender balance, player safety, and ensuring that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against. Admittedly, women tend to be underrepresented and hypersexual, even as studios are putting more and more effort into this. This effort is also seen with greater inclusion of people with disabilities, both with in-game options – as it is highly acclaimed God of War: Ragnarokwhich integrates no less than 60 different options – or at the equipment level – Sony, for example, presented the Leonardo Project at CES 2023, a controller specially designed for people with disabilities.

Elsewhere, the European Parliament asks “harmonization of rules so that parents have a good picture and control of the games their children play“. To do this, he mentions the possibility of modifying the PEGI system, which is currently in effect in more than 38 countries, and is not always respected, neither by parents nor by sellers. In addition, publishers and developers are obliged to “taking into account the age, rights and vulnerabilities of children”. They should also avoid creating addictive games, which can have serious consequences for school performance, health, and social relationships. Several countries have taken steps in this regard. This is particularly the case for China, which has imposed a playtime limit of up to 3 hours per week and a ban on play after 10pm.

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