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Spain eyes crackdown on video game ‘loot boxes’

Spain's government will within days present a draft bill to regulate video game "loot boxes" for which users must pay, a minister said Friday, warning of the addiction risks for youngsters.

video games
Spain wants to regulate video gaming. Photo: Sam Pak / Unsplash

An increasingly common feature in many video games, “loot boxes” are caches of virtual weapons and equipment which a player can buy to increase their prowess or status within the game.

But not all boxes contain useful tools and gamers can only see what’s
inside after paying, prompting widespread criticism for encouraging behaviour similar to that associated with gambling.

“We have drawn up a very specific law which we will present in the coming days” that will regulate the sale of such content, Spain’s Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzon told Radiocable.

“It is like gambling… because it involves compulsive consumption
behaviour which provokes a series of issues for players, from stress to
financial bankruptcy,” he told the independent radio station.

“At the end of the day, these are sums which pile up and can lead to
gambling addiction,” Garzon said.

Such features were aimed above all “at the under-18 age group, where in
2021, up to 30 percent admitted they had paid significant amounts of money to obtain such rewards” within a game, he said, citing health ministry statistics.

The age ratings for such games “don’t take into account the danger posed by this feature, so parents could buy a game for a 13-year-old, for example, without being aware it includes an element which, in real life, could not be bought by anyone under 18,” he explained.

‘Predatory’

In April, PEGI, the European body that issues age ratings for video games, introduced a labelling change that requires gaming companies to say if a game includes “paid random items” – a form of optional in-game purchases.

Many other countries have also been struggling with the controversial
question of “loot boxes” although few have taken steps to regulate them.

On June 2nd, 20 European consumer groups threw their weight behind a
Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) report on loot boxes that described them as “exploitative and predatory”, with the groups demanding better regulation of the video game industry.

“The sale and presentation of loot boxes often involve exploiting consumers through predatory mechanisms, fostering addiction, targeting vulnerable consumer groups and more,” the NCC’s head of digital policy Finn Myrstad said in a statement.

Gaming companies often used “highly problematic practises to increase their own revenue” through features that “manipulate consumers to spend large sums of money through aggressive marketing, exploitation of cognitive biases, and misleading probabilities”, the report found.

In Europe, only Belgium and the Netherlands have banned loot boxes after directly associating them with gambling.

In a statement issued in response to the government’s move, the Spanish
Association of Video Games (AEVI) said it “rejects any association with
gambling” and insisted on the sector’s right to “self-regulation”.

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TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

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