The European Parliament voted today to adopt a report calling for the European Commission to address several issues in the games industry that it believes will better protect consumers, especially young people.
The report was led by MEP Adriana Maldonado López, and secured 577 votes in favour, with 56 against and 15 abstentions.
López made more than a dozen recommendations in her report, including a call for harmonised rules across the European Union's single market when providing clear information about games content, as well as systems that help parents understand and control how much time and money their children spend on games.
The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system was highlighted as an example of something that could deliver more transparent information about the content, target age group and in-game purchase options to consumers.
Used across 38 countries, PEGI ratings are currently a legal requirement in some markets but not in others.
"We need to harmonise EU rules, ensuring strengthened consumer protection with a focus on minors"Adriana Maldonado López, MEP
MEPs also voted to have the Commission analyse the impact of loot boxes and prompts to make in-game purchases, taking action if necessary, as well as investigating whether gold-farming can be linked to financial crimes and human rights abuses.
They also call for developers to "avoid designing games that feed addiction," with López citing the WHO's recognition of gaming disorder as an example of the state of addiction among some players.
Other actions recommended include proritising data protection, improving the gender imbalance on the industry's workforce, and making it as easy for consumers to cancel a subscription as it is to sign up.
The European Parliament also recognised the value of the video games sector, as well as its potential to help with education, mental health and other aspects of life.
MEPs have asked the European Commission to devise a European Video Game Strategy that would boost the industry and "help unlock it's full potential."
They also proposed the creation of a new annual European online video game award.
“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," said López when introducing her report to the plenary today.
"This is something that can particularly affect younger gamers. We need to harmonise EU rules, ensuring strengthened consumer protection and with a specific focus on minors."
"Our industry is committed to a fair and transparent consumer experience when playing videogames"ISFE & EGDF
Ahead of the vote, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe and the European Game Developers Federation issued a joint statement to GamesIndustry.biz, saying the two trade bodies were "concerned by calls for stricter regulation of all in-game purchases."
The pair said such regulation will impact the ability of all games firms to fund development.
"European consumer protection laws are extensive and flexible to cover and sanction practices that are deemed misleading, unfair, or aggressive," the statement read. "As recognised by several studies, the problem lies with insufficient enforcement, which undermines the effectiveness of the legal framework."
It continued: "Our industry is committed to a fair and transparent consumer experience when playing videogames. European players have more choice of amazing games than ever, thanks to the increased variety of business models the industry has developed. Regulators should guard the right to access these cultural products while keeping Europe’s high level of consumer protection."
You can read more about the recommendations laid out in the report below.
Today's vote follows another back in November, where the European Parliament voted to improve investment in the video games industry across the EU. We spoke to MEP Laurence Farreng about the ongoing fight to recognise the value of video games.
Consumer protection in online video games: a European single market approach
The European Commission was asked:
Age ratings and information
- To assess how the PEGI system is being implemented in the different types of games available, and to consider enshrining it in EU law to make PEGI its Code of Conduct the mandatory age-rating system for all games in the single market
- To support the promotion of public and private education and information campaigns directed at parents and caretakers to inform them of the tools in place, such as the PEGI app, and to encourage usage
- To introduce common labels for information such as the recommended minimum age, a game's theme, in-game purchasing options, presence of pop-up advertising, and more
- To develop a common European identity verification system to help check the age of players
- To develop minimum standards on privacy preservation
- To collect EU-wide data on the average time spent playing games, average in-game spending, socio-psychological effects, present a yearly report to Parliament on it
- To assess the possibility of requiring providers of online games targeting minors to develop child impact assessments
- To adopt, if needed, regulatory measures on games that allows players to create their own content in order to protect users, especially minors, from illegal practices
- To assess whether the current consumer law framework is sufficient to address all issues raised by loot boxes and in-game purchases. If not, to adapt the current framework for online games or to propose standalone legislation
- To analyse the way in which loot boxes are sold, and take necessary steps to bring about a common European approach on loot boxes to protect consumers, in particular minors
- To assess the use of gold farming in connection with financial crimes and human rights abuses and to present appropriate initiatives if necessary
- To put an end to illegal practices allowing anyone to exchange, sell or bet on in-game and third-party sites (for skin betting)
- To ensure traders provide users with an opt-in proposal at purchase for subscriptions, as well as with clear and easily accessible information on how to cancel auto-renewals at any time
- To update the EU Kids Online research project, which gathers EU-wide data on children’s online experiences, and to fund this and similar initiatives in the future
- To put forward a European Video Game Strategy that unlocks the economic, social, educational, cultural and innovative potential of this sector to enable it to become a leader in the global video game market
- To present initiatives to improve the accessibility of online video games for persons with disabilities