In a move that seems, at best, ill-advised 2K has decided to put out a trailer focusing on advertising the literal slot machines and other casino-style mechanisms that are a part of the MyTEAM section of NBA 2K20. During a time where loot box mechanics in games are being viewed more negatively than they possibly ever have been and countries around the world have either already passed legislation regulating them or have politicians proposing regulation or outlawing them all together, it is almost beyond parody that 2K would think this would go over well.
In the trailer for the NBA 2K20 MyTEAM portion of the game, 2K showed off several reward systems including a ball drop game, a spinning prize wheel, and a literal slot machine. The trailer has since been unlisted on YouTube, which seems to indicate that 2K did not enjoy the feedback it was getting about it.
Since that point, the European video game rating organization PEGI has responded to a complaint it received about the trailer. Eurogamer confirmed with PEGI that the complaint and their response to it are legitimate. PEGI states that the trailer does not, at this point, trigger their criteria for placing a gambling descriptor on NBA 2K20. "A video game gets the gambling content descriptor if it contains moving images that encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling.", PEGI explains in the response email. PEGI goes on to explain that they are fully aware of how discomforting these types of systems are in games, especially with how they are portrayed in NBA 2K20 saying:
The trailer includes imagery that is generally known from casinos (wheel of fortune, slot machines). Using this sort of mechanic to select an item, or character, or action by chance is not the same as teaching how to gamble for money in a casino. These differences currently prevent us from applying the gambling descriptor. But we are very aware that it may get too close for comfort for some people, and that is part of an internal discussion that PEGI is having for the moment. The games industry is evolving constantly (and rapidly in recent years). As a rating organisation, we need to ensure that these developments are reflected in our classification criteria. We do not base our decisions on the content of a single trailer, but we will properly assess how the rating system (and the video games industry in general) should address these concerns.
Clearly PEGI will be waiting until they see the final version of the game to make their final decision, but it is encouraging that they are having serious internal discussions on their classification criteria and how it may need to change with the times. Something that PEGI should be bringing up in their discussion on this topic is the recent study that warned of a link between loot boxes and problem gambling in minors especially for games that seek their PEGI 3 rating like NBA 2K20.
There's also the fact that 2K asked Belgian fans to contact their government to petition them to keep paid loot boxes in NBA 2K19 after they were determined to be a form of illegal gambling by the Belgian government. Belgium has passed a law that has made loot boxes illegal in video games sold in the country, so games either need to not have them or remove them for the Belgian version of the game, or their publishers could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to €800,000 (around $880,838.40) with punishments doubling if children are involved. With the largest publishers and developers recently pledging to be transparent with loot box drop rates by 2020, it would seem obvious to most that loot boxes are, at best, a sensitive topic that most people generally do not want to see in the games they play, let alone when they seem so unashamedly gambling based. We have reached out to both 2K and the ESRB in regards to this situation and will be updating this article if they respond.
What did you think of the trailer itself? Do you think there should be stricter rating criteria for gambling aspects of video games?