French organization the Autorité de regulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL) found that video game loot boxes don’t break the country’s gambling law, according to a 2017-2018 activity report GamesIndustry.biz reports. But, it’s not exactly complimentary toward them either.
Gambling is generally prohibited in France unless it’s expressly permitted by the regulator, according to Baker McKenzie associate Sebastian Schwiddessen, who wrote an analysis of the report. Only three types of online gambling are currently allowed — poker, horse betting, and sports betting. The ARJEL could potentially consider loot boxes gambling too if the items they generate have a real world monetary value, he said, especially if the items are likely to be sold outside of the game. While most publishers explicitly prohibit off-platform trading in their terms of service, the ARJEL said “a certain number of investigations are in progress.”
Like South Korea, the Netherlands and Belgium, the ARJEL began investigating loot boxes after widespread controversy last year over how they’re implemented in video games, especially full-priced AAA titles like “Star Wars Battlefront II” and “Destiny 2.” “Battlefront II” fans were particularly outraged, calling EA’s microtransactions unfair and exploitative. They blasted the publisher on Reddit, giving it the most downvoted comment in the website’s history. EA also reportedly lost an estimated $3.1 billion in stock value at the time. Hawaii state representative Chris Lee allegedly called the game a “‘Star Wars’-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money” and introduced legislation that would prohibit selling video games with loot boxes to people under the age of 21.
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While loot boxes might not fall under the legal definition of gambling in France, the ARJEL voted for a combined and coordinated action on them. It said they can serve as a gambling “apprenticeship” for young people. It also criticized the fact that minors can play games containing loot boxes without any age verification, and that the random number generator responsible for determining loot box items is not transparent to the player.
But, while the ARJEL’s comments are critical, Schwiddessen said they’re also non-committal and unspecific. “Altogether it is unlikely that any concrete actions will follow,” he said.