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Game developers call loot box restrictions ‘censorship’ ahead of GDC conference
Does trying to limit loot boxes count as censorship?

A roundtable meeting planned for next month aims to discuss ways the games industry can avoid government regulation of loot boxes.

Since the furore over Star Wars: Battlefront II the question of loot boxes has not been prominent so far this year, but only because no major new game has used them yet. As the year goes on though, that’s bound to change soon enough.

But as various government organisations around the world talk about imposing restrictions on how loot boxes are used, and the dangers of video games using gambling style mechanics, some parts of the development community apparently see things very differently.

The Games Developer Conference (GDC) event in March currently lists a ‘Censorship Strikes Back Roundtable’, to be presented by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).

GDC is the biggest developer conference of the year and the IGDA the largest professional body for games developers, so you’d expect some level of self-reflection, but this is the roundtable description:

Global gains against game censorship are suddenly at risk from a combination of actions against our industry. With the World Health Organization classifying ‘gaming disorder’ a mental health condition and burgeoning legislation around the world against loot boxes, a handful of government officials again wield outsized power over our creative and business decisions. What are developers to do? Join us for a discussion on how we can protect our rights.

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The description paints attempts to limit loot boxes as an ‘assault’ on the ‘self-expression and business rights’ of games companies.

At the same time, the intended audience for the roundtable is described as, ‘all game developers and allies who want to protect themselves, their work, and their peers from video game censorship.’

Publicly painting themselves as victims in this way is not likely to endear developers to either gamers or lawmakers. Especially as the games industry has been encouraged to self-regulate and it is only their failure to do so which is attracting the attention of politicians.

One of the most prominent in the US is Hawaiian Democrat Chris Lee, who recently claimed to GameSpot that lobbyists from trade association ESA (Entertainment Software Association) are ‘roaming the halls of the state capital’ and ‘have been flown out to try and stop any sort of conversation about these issues from happening’.

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Lobby groups such as the NRA wield considerable financial and political influence in the US, and the ones from the ESA want to stop Lee’s bill to ensure that video games that have ‘gambling-like mechanisms’ cannot be sold to anyone aged under 21. It’s unclear how much chance the bill has of becoming law, but similar bills have also been introduced in Washington and Indiana.

In the UK, the British government takes the view that loot boxes are not gambling if the items you receive cannot be exchanged for real money. But the response to a petition to change gambling laws was received sympathetically, and The Gambling Commission and Video Standards Council (VSC) are said to be closely monitoring the situation.

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