It's been a rough couple of weeks for The Most Hated Video Game in The History of The World. First, EA decided to perform a complete U-turn on Star Wars Battlefront II's loot boxes, pulling the game's paid Crystals currency the day its online shooter launched. Yet despite this reversal, the publisher has come under widespread criticism for promoting gambling practices in games, and a French senator is the latest figure to pile on the scorn.
48-year-old senator Jérôme Durain recently wrote an open letter to ARJEL (an independent agency that monitors online gambling in France), and it's clear he sees loot boxes as a dangerous gateway for more serious gambling problems. Here's the letter in full, courtesy of a translator on Reddit. It's an interesting read:
Following our exchanges during the parliamentary mission conducted with Mr Rudy Salles, I can only offer my congratulations on the positive trend in the world of video games in general and that of e-sport in particular. Economically dynamic, this cultural industry seems to me a positive contribution to the country: far from the accusation of being an ultra-violent culture that was made only a few years ago, video games allows millions of players to flourish, to exchange, and to develop a practice sometimes close to high level sport. French game developers and the champions of the latest games on the e-sport scene contribute to French cultural influence in the world. I believe that the balanced and benevolent position of ARJEL [French online gambling regulator], which prefers to keep e-sport and gambling distinct from one another, has contributed to the general dynamism that can be observed today.
This context, however, should not prevent us from following the numerous and rapid evolutions of the sector. Today, loot boxes seem to me to require special attention from the public authorities. Many players and specialized observers (see the article devoted to the subject in the magazine Canard PC) question the deleterious effects of the spread of these micro-transactions in the world of video games.
While I do not think it is necessary at this stage to put in place specific legislation, I wonder about the desirability of providing consumer protection in this area. The use of loot boxes conferring cosmetic additions to the games seems well-accepted by the public. The development of so-called pay-to-win practices is more contentious, as shown by the recent controversy over the game Star Wars Battlefront 2. Quite aside from the acceptance of the practice, some observers point to a convergence of the video game world and practices specific to gambling.
Transparency is not common with regard to statistics governing loot boxes, even though good practices sometimes exist. China has decided in favour of a transparency of win ratios. Some of our European neighbours (the United Kingdom and Belgium in particular) are looking into the matter through their regulatory authorities. So we see that the question is not unique to France. Does ARJEL have the infrastructure necessary for a general census of win ratios for micro transactions?
I am sensitive to the fact that dialogue is ongoing between the public authorities and the games industry, so I have written in similar terms to Mr. Mahjoubi, Secretary of State for digital affairs, and I have informed the SELL [French videogame consumer body], the SNJV [French games industry association] and the France e-sport association of these initiatives. Prompt and sincere self-regulation of the sector would be reassuring news at a time when some players predict the imminent arrival of e-sports betting. I am convinced that collective reflection will enable us to find a satisfactory answer to this new problem.
The ethical issues raised by loot boxes are clearly well worth discussing; high profile politicians and other public figures weighing in on the debate will hopefully deter other publishers from making a Battlefront II sized mistake in the future. In the meantime, it seems less and less likely DICE's maligned blaster will ever be able to repair its tattered reputation.