Loot boxes: The problem has reached the Bundestag. Amendment of the German Youth Protection Act?

Bonn (SR) - The debate over the regulation of loot boxes continues to rage in several parts of Europe. Approaches to solving the problem in the political arena differ considerably. Spain, for example, is contemplating the introduction of an age limit for loot boxes. In Austria, on the other hand, the legal channel is currently being pursued, as no regulatory efforts are being made by politicians at present. This course of action is also a possibility in Germany if the regulatory authority does not perform its assigned role. This and possible regulatory approaches were elaborated by gluecksspielwesen.de in its last roundtable discussion Loot boxes - Solutions for the Separation between Entertainment and Gambling.

The debate surrounding regulation has already arrived in the Bundestag and is being driven by MPs from different parties. According to Lena Werner, member of the Bundestag from the SPD, for example: "The games industry is an economically potent and creative industry. In the Coalition Agreement, we agreed to further strengthen the games industry in Germany. A considerable part of the sales revenue earned by this industry comes from so-called in-game purchases. In this context, loot boxes, which appear in many games, raise some critical questions. I attach great importance to ensuring that the gaming experience is positive and enjoyable without involving unpredictable financial risks. Gaming should be a leisure activity that is enjoyable and not gambling through the back door. Especially with an eye to children and young people, it is our responsibility to establish safeguards to protect them from possible negative effects."

Linda Heitmann, member of the Bundestag for the Bündnis 90/Green Party, is already forwarding specific proposals for regulation: "Loot boxes are an annoying and also dangerous phenomenon in video games and are particularly problematic when they appeal to children and young people. We have to realize that game developers are unfortunately amazingly creative when it comes to ripping off young people in video games and encouraging addictive tendencies. I see a need for tighter laws and regulations here. Educational campaigns are needed, but above all the providers of games and apps must be held accountable by offering information and prevention as well as by providing technical solutions such as automatic slowdowns when games last too long, by rewarding breaks and even banning loot boxes.

Targeted mechanisms promoting addition, for example complex reward systems or penalizing interruption of games, should be rendered transparent for children and parents by means of warning notices. The same youth protection measures must apply to simulated gambling as to "real" gambling. Research on mechanisms of action, proclivities and therapy in connection with online gambling addiction (gaming disorder) need to be intensified. With the latest amendment of the Youth Protection Act, the former Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM) was turned into the Federal Agency for the Protection of Children and Young People in the Media (BzKJ). On gaming platforms, age ratings now have to be clearly marked, no matter how many users they have or where their company headquarters are located.

Information on complaints offices, age verification systems and data protection-friendly default settings have also been improved. We will be monitoring further developments very closely and are currently reviewing an additional amendment to the Youth Protection Act in order to bring about further improvements in the protection of minors in gambling and gambling-like elements on the Internet.

As a basis for effective and appropriate regulation, research findings are important, as Fabian Gramling, CDU/CSU Member of the Bundestag, once again states: "The debate on the protection of gamers with regard to the use of loot boxes has intensified in recent months - including thanks to the limited enquiry lodged by the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. There is no doubt that more regulation is needed. Studies and current figures show that gambling addiction among young people has been on the increase over the last few years. It is currently assumed that about 330,000 young people exhibit pathological gambling behavior. But in order to make reliable political decisions, more research and studies are needed that explicitly relate to loot boxes and also take into account the money involved. Concrete regulatory proposals, whether they involve technical solutions such as deposit limits or a basic deactivation, multi-level authentication processes or a tightening of youth protection measures, must be developed on the basis of research findings and in collaboration with industry players. Only then will they be effective. In the Union we are currently working on this. From the government, I expect active participation in the current discussion, pragmatic proposals for player protection and sufficient financial support for the necessary research work to be performed on the topic of loot boxes."

At the Federal Congress on Gambling, which will be taking place on 5 October, MPs will be discussing possible regulatory measures together with legal experts in order to move forward in the debate and produce solutions.