Game publisher Take-Two faces lawsuit over controversial 'loot boxes' in NBA 2K

NBA 2K21 was one of the largest contributors to Take-Two's digitally-delivered net bookings. PHOTO: UNREAL ENGINE

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Take-Two Interactive Software is facing a class-action lawsuit over the deceptive sale of loot boxes to minors in its popular NBA 2K video game series.

One of its recent iterations of the basketball game franchise, NBA 2K21, has sold more than 10 million copies and some 2 million people played the game daily last year, according to the company's latest annual report.

The game costs US$59.99 (S$81.45) and players can spend additional money on in-game currency they use to upgrade a player's clothing or receive new players.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a minor and her guardian, contends that these loot boxes "psychologically distance" players from the real-life financial implications of in-game purchases and the transactions are particularly attractive to minors who may not understand the real-world implications of spending virtual currency.

What is more, the transactions are often done with a parent's credit card and the minors are generally unaware that their purchase is non-refundable, according to the case.

"Defendant's unfair, deceptive, and unlawful practices, including illegal gambling practices, deceive, mislead, and harm consumers," the complainants said.

A spokesman for Take-Two declined to comment. An attorney for the plaintiff did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Loot boxes have been controversial in the gaming industry in recent years, with critics charging that the in-game purchases can amount to gambling and tempt kids into overspending.

They have also been a huge source of revenue for the companies involved. NBA 2K21 was one of the largest contributors to Take-Two's digitally-delivered net bookings, which totalled US$3.1 billion in fiscal 2021.

In 2019, a bipartisan group of United States senators introduced a bill that would ban loot boxes in games aimed at players under 18. Belgium also has declared them illegal.

The video game industry responded to critics by agreeing to make some disclosures about the probability that a buyer would obtain a desired item after purchasing a loot box and to improve labelling.

Apple and Alphabet's Google, were also sued over similar claims in 2020. Both suits were dismissed earlier this year.

The lawsuit was originally filed on Jan 11 in Winnebago County Circuit Court, before being moved to the Illinois Northern District Court on Feb 25. The plaintiff is seeking at least US$5 million in damages.

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