Video game maker faces trial for alleged gambling

VANCOUVER – The controversy over loot boxes in video games is escalating again. A civil lawsuit filed by a Vancouver law firm on behalf of two Canadian consumers accuses one of the gaming giants, Electronic Arts, of operating an unlicensed gaming business through “loot boxes.”

For those of you who are not gamers, a loot box is something that you can purchase in a game to enhance or enhance the gaming experience. Many loot boxes contain random virtual items, like coins. skins to change the appearance of characters or weapon upgrades.

In-game transactions can be an extremely lucrative source of income for the gaming industry.

“I have friends who are completely free to play. I have friends who throw away $ 8,000 a month because they can afford it, ”said Mikhail, a video player who didn’t want his last name used.

The lawsuit lists 60 of EA’s titles, including: EA Sports games, fantasy role-playing and shooter games, and “other games developed and published by the defendants which may become known to the plaintiff.”

It is estimated that in-game transactions generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and the lawsuit seeks to recoup the money won by loot boxes, claiming they violate gambling laws and regulations. consumer protection.

The lawsuit alleges that the chance of winning an item in a loot box is part of the compulsion loop that keeps players invested in a game, claiming that these loops are known to contribute to video game addiction and are frequently compared to gambling addictions.

Mikhail, who has studied video games, reviewed the lawsuit and had a few opinions.

“My big worry is that they are getting there with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel,” he said.

Mikhail believes there is a legitimate concern about excessive in-game buying, which could result in a warning when a player reaches a certain level. But he wonders whether or not it is gambling.

“(With) a lot of that stuff, you get something out of it, even if it’s not what you wanted,” he said. “I would say it’s no different from a Kinder Surprise or a gumball machine.”

Electronic Arts never responded to our request for comment on the lawsuit, but the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, which represents video game developers, has weighed in.

“They don’t play. There is nothing you can do with these elements other than use them in the closed ecosystem of this game, ”said Jayon Hilchie, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.

He referred to a recent poll, released last fall, which showed that only about seven percent of adult video game users in Canada had purchased loot boxes in the past six months. There wasn’t a large enough sample of teens to see how much they were buying. However, according to a July 2020 article in Statista, a research and market data website, 87% of US gamers admitted to purchasing DLC.

There is a lot of peer pressure to collect some of the coveted virtual items in loot boxes, which sometimes leads those who earn them to sell their player accounts on third-party websites for a lot of money.

“Whenever companies find out, they rush to suspend these accounts,” Hilchie said.

He thinks the industry is largely self-regulating. But the Netherlands and Belgium decided that certain loot boxes were games of chance and banned them. In fact, EA is appealing millions of euros in potential fines for its FIFA coffers in the Netherlands.

But here in North America, the claim that loot boxes are a form of illegal gambling has yet to be tested in court.

BC’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch is aware of the controversy, but told CTV News it has no role in regulating video games. However, parents and community members told him that young people are exposed to play through similar play elements.

The province asked the Center for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia to study the impact of loot boxes and other in-game transactions on gamblers’ gambling addiction. The study, which recently started, is expected to take 18 months and the Gambling Policy and Enforcement Branch says the result will reflect next steps.

Read the civil claim notice below. If the integration does not appear or if you want to view a larger version, press here.

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