View from Brussels: MEPs want more video-game regulation

Members of the European Parliament said earlier this week that certain video game features like loot boxes and in-game purchases should be regulated better, while issues like addiction need to be treated more seriously.

According to a report authored by the Parliament, there should be harmonised rules that allow parents in particular to know more about the content of the games their children play, as well as the amount of money they spend while playing the game.

Features like loot boxes – which offer players a random selection of virtual items – and gold-farming – which allows players to exchange in-game currency for real-life money – have become commonplace in modern games.

However, there are concerns that younger gamers in particular can be targeted by these features and that gold-farming could be linked to financial crimes and human rights abuses. MEPs are keen to draw a line in the sand as a result.

The report calls on the European Commission – the executive branch of the EU – to come up with a video game strategy, which should include EU-wide rules and an assessment of how loot boxes and gold-farming actually impact players.

Thirty-eight countries use the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating system, which classifies games based on factors like violence, bad language, drug use and gambling. It is widely supported and used across the EU but there are exceptions.

Many countries do not have specific legislation that makes PEGI use legally binding, while others allow the market to choose which rating system it uses. Others, like Croatia, Germany and Hungary – all EU members – do not use PEGI at all.

Whether the Commission will wade into the debate and propose making PEGI the standardised rating system remains to be seen, as it could be accused of ‘Brussels overreach’ or meddling in national matters.

Germany, one of the EU’s top decision-makers, and Hungary, which is rebelling on a number of other issues, are likely to prove problematic. 

Consumer issues also need to be addressed, according to the Parliament. Cancelling subscription services should be as easy as signing up to them, and purchase, return and refund policies need to comply with EU rules.

“Our report highlights the positives of this pioneering industry, but also social risks we need to bear in mind, like the impact of gaming on mental health. This is something that can particularly affect younger gamers,” said Adriana Maldonado López, the MEP who wrote the report.

That is why the push for stricter regulation comes with a chaser of support for innovation in the industry. Worldwide revenues are expected to grow to nearly $300 billion by 2027, according to Statista.

MEPs want to set up an annual European online video game award, to reward the industry’s most innovative and exciting developers. Details about who would be eligible and funding are still to be worked out.

The gaming industry itself is wary about lawmakers calling for more rules, warning ahead of the vote that more regulation of all in-game purchases was concerning. Two European gaming associations warned that it could impact development funding.

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