A British Columbia judge has found that a claim which was turned into a class-action lawsuit regarding the offering of so-called loot boxes in video games can proceed.
In her ruling, Margot Fleming, a B.C. Supreme Court Justice, found that the plaintiff’s claims in the aforementioned lawsuit disclosed a viable cause of legal action under the provisions of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, which bans the use of deceptive practices and acts. However, the judge ruled out one of the major allegations faced by the developer of the FIFA video game – Electronic Arts – that the operator was engaged in illegal gambling services or the use of loot boxes was immoral, a major element of the class-action lawsuit.
A company official commented on the judge’s ruling, saying that her finding was not the same as concluding that the business practices of Electronic Arts were deceptive. The company was pleased that the court rejected the allegation of illegal gambling as a matter of law, with its representative claiming that the decision only affirms EA’s position that nothing in its games constituted gambling.
Sam Jaworski, a lawyer representing the plaintiff, however, thinks otherwise. In a statement released on March 15th, the B.C. Supreme Court Justice’s decision is the first step toward addressing the legal issue of loot boxes available in video games, and the potential negative effect such in-game items could have on consumers. According to him, taking the path of legal action is likely to be a long road but the plaintiff was ready to follow it.
Plaintiff Claims Electronic Arts Was Luring Players into Illegal Gambling by Offering Them Loot Boxes
So-called loot boxes are a feature of video games which contain virtual items that could be used in the game and can be either purchased with real money or special virtual currency or can be accessed by players through their gameplay.
The representative plaintiff in the aforementioned class-action lawsuit, Mark Sutherland, filed the legal action on behalf of all residents of British Columbia who paid for such in-game items either directly or indirectly in more than 70 of Electronic Arts’ video games since 2008. As part of the pleadings, the plaintiff’s legal representatives alleged that the video game development company has increasingly started to use addictive game elements, such as loot boxes, to lure its customers into spending more time and, respectively, money on its games. However, the B.C. Supreme Court judge noted that the issue regarding addictive video games was not part of the business practice claims against the video game developer.
On the other hand, the plaintiff’s claims that the company used deceptive business practices were related to a number of things, including that Electronic Arts mislead class members regarding the availability and shortage of valuable or rare in-game items within so-called loot boxes. Allegedly, the defendant also controlled the probabilities of a loot box containing a certain item without disclosing those probabilities to their customers before they pay for a loot box and open it.
Justice Margot Fleming accepted that the legal action included material facts that were enough to prove the claims that the company used deceptive practices or acts. However, the presented evidence turned out insufficient to convince her that the controversial loot boxes were a form of illegal gambling, so she found that part of the plaintiff’s case had to be struck down. As explained by the B.C. Supreme Court Justice, the plaintiff could make amendments to the legal action to plead material facts supporting the elements of its claims of unethical acts or practices that are not associated with illegality.
The court is expected to address some other elements before a ruling on whether the lawsuit can be categorized as a class action at a later date.