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German regulator begins process to ban Coin Master game

Review board considers blacklisting game with gambling-like elements as harmful to minors, decision could set precedent for other titles

A German comedian has spurred a government regulator to take a closer look at gambling-style monetization in games. GameStar is reporting that the Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors (BPjM) has begun the process to blacklist the mobile game Coin Master for its monetization tactics after Jan Böhmermann dedicated a lengthy segment to it on his TV show Neo Magazin Royale earlier this month.

As explained in a post by Baker McKenzie lawyer Sebastian Schwiddessen, the BPjM can blacklist games such that they are not allowed to be publicly distributed or advertised, which would make it criminal for platforms to offer them. Coin Master is currently at the beginning of the blacklisting process, meaning the game's developer Moon Active will have an opportunity to defend the title.

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As part of the process, the BPjM forms a committee intended to represent a cross-section of the public to review the case, with two-thirds needing to vote in favor of blacklisting for a piece of media to be banned. The BPjM has not previously ruled on video game monetization as it more typically handles questions of pornography or violence, so Schwiddessen said it is more likely it will choose to go with a 12-person committee rather than the three-person committee format it uses for less complicated cases.

While the case is specific to Coin Master, Schwiddessen said that a blacklisting here could have widespread ramifications for the industry.

"This would very likely result in further applications to blacklist other games with similar monetization models which will then also have to be reviewed by the BPjM," Schwiddessen said. "While every blacklisting decision is a case-by-case decision, the BPjM typically applies its established and settled practice to others cases as well. Thus, other games with similar monetization models would become subject to a (significantly) increased risk of being blacklisted as well."

That also means that the German game rating board USK would need to consider monetization mechanics in assigning ratings, which it doesn't currently do. (Schwiddessen noted that NBA 2K20, which has come under criticism for its monetization model, has a USK 0 all ages rating.) That could result in games with essentially similar monetization tactics being issued higher classifications or potentially refused classification entirely, depending on the BPjM ruling for Coin Master. It would also extend beyond the USK to the automatically generated IARC ratings on the Google Play store.

Moon Active did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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