The German government has passed a law that means if a game has loot boxes, they must be taken into consideration when that game is being given an age rating. This could be a stumbling block for companies such as EA, whose live service games often contain loot boxes. The law must now pass the Federal Council, something it is expected to do this Spring.
How will the new German law affect games with loot boxes?
According to GamesLaw.org, German games (as well as other media) won't simply be rated on content anymore. Instead, ratings will take into account which interactive elements and "risky mechanics" games feature. These include "gambling-like mechanics", under which loot boxes would fall, as well as user data collection and exhortations to purchase other content or media that isn't age-appropriate. Said elements would then contribute to the decision regarding what age rating to give a game, with a higher age rating possible if multiple "risky mechanics" are found.
It's worth noting that if a game does fall under any of these categories, that doesn't automatically mean a higher age rating. Lawyer Felix Hilgert says that the new German law provides for creators to include "content descriptors" similar to ones used by ratings boards like PEGI and ESRB. If content descriptors are present, then increasing the age rating of a game would be "considered an exceptional measure", meaning that the age rating would be likely to stay the same. While this doesn't spell the end for loot boxes in any sense, it's certainly a blow for publishers including them in games without warning.
What's the background for this new German law?
According to the legislation itself (which is entirely in German, but we've used machine translation to translate it), loot boxes have repeatedly "come under criticism" from youth groups and consumer protection organizations. Around 14% of young gamers in a study were victims of "cost traps, rip-offs or fraud", so this isn't something the German government wants to take lightly. The new law is due to come into force in spring, but it requires approval from Germany's second parliamentary chamber before it can be fully enshrined in law. However, Hilgert says he doesn't anticipate any substantial changes to the amendment.
This new German legislation comes against a backdrop of increasing animosity towards loot boxes around the world. Late last year, a UK study found that over 1 in 10 young gamers are in debt due to spending too much on loot boxes. Capcom has condemned including loot boxes in games. EA was heavily penalized by the Netherlands for including loot boxes in its games, and two gamers brought a lawsuit against EA in Canada for "unjust enrichment" arising from the sale of loot boxes. It's hard to imagine the landscape improving for loot boxes in the gaming world any time soon.
How do you feel about this new German law? Let us know in the comments below!
Note - we originally wrote this story with the understanding that the German law in question would require games featuring loot boxes to be classified at 18 or over. However, we now understand this is not the case, and have rewritten the story with a greater understanding of the facts. We apologize for any confusion caused.