- 866 million euros spent German gamers in the first half of 2018 for in-game purchases. A good part of it may have been spent on so-called Lootboxen.
- The – often youthful – players buy themselves the chance of a valuable item, but can also find only worthless stuff in the virtual box.
- Experts consider the purchase of Lootboxen comparable to gambling, but there are no state rules for this.
The boy from Texas had a happy childhood until he made a momentous mistake at the age of thirteen. For $ 30, he bought upgrades in a mobile game to keep up with friends while building his virtual city. It was the beginning of a vicious circle, because there was no upgrade, and no game. He bought one upgrade after another. Later, the player has a bitter record: "I fight with gambling addiction," he confessed under the pseudonym Kensgold on the platform Reddit.
A good 13,500 dollars, equivalent to 11,900 euros, he spent in just three years to get the best equipment in video games. For the many money he bought so-called Lootboxen, "loot boxes" whose contents he did not know. Whether it contained the desired paint, the best rifle, or just worthless pixel waste: coincidence, luck – or just bad luck.
Kensgold's story is the extreme form of a problem that gets bigger and bigger. In the first half of 2018 alone, German gamers spent 866 million euros on "microtransactions", according to figures from the Association of the German Games Industry. That's an increase of almost 40 percent compared to the previous year's half. And many of the customers are not even of age: More than a quarter of the twelve to 17-year-old gamers, according to a study by the health insurance DAK and the German Center for Addiction, paid in the past half-year money for extras in games.
Psychological tricks motivate teens to gamble
"Due to the tricks of the industry many young people find no end and gamble time and money," says DAK boss Andreas Storm. Through intermediary online currencies and often low purchase prices per transaction, particularly youthful players easily lose track of how much they actually spend, warn experts. For Ilona Füchtenschnieder, head of the association gambling addiction, it is an "absolute mess" that is made with vulnerable young people by Lootboxen money.
So far politics has not been particularly interested in the topic in Germany. Lootboxing is a risk that "so far is not yet sufficiently covered by the statutory child and youth media protection," says a spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Family and Youth on request. According to studies, this affects 8.5 million children and adolescents under the age of 19 who play video games in Germany. "Loot boxes allow interaction and develop incentive effects, especially for children and young people to buy within a game," said the ministry. These purchases could "get out of hand". Many of the purchases are done in secret, often the parents do not know about it. Social educators report cases where parents had given their son money for a car – and then found that the most, a five-figure amount, had put into a video game within weeks. This is reminiscent of the history of Kensgold.
In Belgium and the Netherlands, Lootboxes are illegal gambling
From a psychological point of view, many experts and studies come to the conclusion that Lootboxen with their suction at least a strong similarity to gambling – including the DAK study. A central gambling authority, which could make such an assessment from a legal point of view, does not exist in Germany. Markus Ruttig is a lawyer and expert on gambling law. He thinks it's likely that lootboxes are gambling. You pay a real wager and risk a total loss of this mission: "It may be that this is totally for the cat, because you can not use what you get," says Ruttig.
But the matter is legally difficult. Unlike other games of chance, many of the games use virtual currencies for which you have to spend euros and cents – but they can not legally be converted back into euros and cents. "It's lucky what awaits you in the box," says lawyer Wulf Hambach, who specializes in gambling law. "But gambling in the legal sense is only when you can get something that you can convert directly into money."
Belgium and the Netherlands have classified Lootboxen as illegal gambling, in Germany could soon be at least for minors. "Protection of minors is gaining money", Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD) recently wrote on Facebook. Providers would have to "take more responsibility," for example, indicate that Lootboxen are included in a game, and reveal the odds. In addition, Lootboxen should have an impact on the age rating of games.
However, a general ban is not currently being examined, the ministry said. But work is being done to reform the current youth media protection law "from the time of CD-ROMs and video cassettes". Especially for mobile devices whose use parents can barely control, there is "no effective legal protection standards," says a spokesman.
A classification as a game of chance would have serious consequences, because that would make the Lootboxen illegal – after all, you need a license for online casinos in this country. Experience has shown that such general prohibitions are simply disregarded. Attorney Ruttig welcomes a youth protection regime that he considers far more effective: "It does not matter if lootboxes are gambling or not: it's so close that you do not want that with minors."