PEGI responds to complaint about NBA 2K20's age-rating following controversial casino trailer backlash

European video game age-rating organisation PEGI has said it’s “very aware” NBA 2K20 may get “too close for comfort” to teaching players gambling after it received a complaint about a controversial casino trailer.

Earlier this week, publisher 2K released a trailer for NBA 2K20 on YouTube that highlighted casino-style elements in the game, such as a slot machine mini-game and a wheel of fortune mini-game.

The trailer, which also highlighted the game’s loot box systems, was roundly criticised. 2K later unlisted the video, which has received 16,000 dislikes. Comments include: “This looks and sounds like I’m watching a casino ad,” and, “This is legit gambling. They aren’t even trying to hide it anymore.”

Adding fuel to the fire, critics pointed out these casino-style games are included in a PEGI 3 video game targeted at children as well as adults.

Yesterday, an email from PEGI addressing a complaint about NBA 2K20’s age-rating hit reddit. Eurogamer has verified this email is legitimate with PEGI.

In the email, PEGI said a video game will only carry the gambling descriptor if it includes mechanics that encourage or teach players how to gamble or bet – and NBA 2K20, it insists, does not do this.

However, PEGI said it’s aware NBA 2K20 “may get too close for comfort for some people”, and said the trailer sparked an internal discussion going on right now.

Here’s the response in full:

“We have seen the announcement trailer of NBA 2K20 and noticed the controversy it has caused. We feel it is important to carefully explain when certain content is triggering the gambling descriptor in the PEGI system, but also to show when it does not at this moment.

“A video game gets the gambling content descriptor if it contains moving images that encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling.

“We use a help text to clarify this in more detail: This refers to types of betting or gambling for money that is normally played/carried out in casinos, gambling halls, racetracks. This does not cover games where betting or gambling is simply part of the general storyline. The game must actually teach the player how to gamble or bet and/or encourage the player to want to gamble or bet for money in real life.

“For example, this will include games that teach the player how to play card games that are usually played for money or how to play the odds in horse racing.

“It is important to stress that the controversial imagery played a central role in the trailer, but it may not necessarily do so in the game, which has not yet been released.

“At this point in time, PEGI can only comment on the trailer that has been made publicly available.

“The trailer includes imagery that is generally known from casinos (wheel of fortune, slot machines). Using this sort of mechanic to select an item, or character, or action by chance is not the same as teaching how to gamble for money in a casino. These differences currently prevent us from applying the gambling descriptor. But we are very aware that it may get too close for comfort for some people, and that is part of an internal discussion that PEGI is having for the moment. The games industry is evolving constantly (and rapidly in recent years). As a rating organisation, we need to ensure that these developments are reflected in our classification criteria. We do not base our decisions on the content of a single trailer, but we will properly assess how the rating system (and the video games industry in general) should address these concerns.”

A virtual slot machine mini-game in NBA 2K20.

PEGI’s statement here suggests the organisation will wait until it’s seen the final game before making a judgment on NBA 2K20’s rating, but it also suggests PEGI is having a deep discussion about its own criteria. If it decides NBA 2K20 does indeed trigger the gambling content descriptor, then the game may lose its PEGI 3 rating.

2K’s trailer for NBA 2K20 has kicked up quite the stink, then, although these casino mechanics have been in previous entries in the series. Context is king – the now unlisted trailer puts loot boxes and casino games on a pedestal at a time of increased scrutiny about video games and gambling and loot boxes across the globe.

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