New testing rules for video gamesMany popular sports games now only approved for ages 12 and up

Many parents consider sports games to be suitable entertainment for their younger children. After all, you hardly have to worry about issues such as depictions of violence when playing a soccer or basketball game. Nevertheless, some popular sports games such as "EA Sports FC 24" and "NBA 2K24" have now been given the legal age rating "USK 12+". This means that some of them have been given a higher age rating than their predecessors, which were mostly rated "USK from 0". The reason for this is the new test criteria of the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK). We tell parents what the new test criteria are and what they need to look out for when buying video games for their children.

Sports games are a popular genre among children and young people. These include games such as "EA Sports FC 24", the successor to the "FIFA" game series, and the game "NBA 2K24". In terms of content risks, sports games generally do not contain any aspects relevant to the protection of minors, such as depictions of violence.

However, newer sports games often contain additional online functions such as "chats" or "in-game purchases" with random objects in the form of card packs (so-called "loot boxes"). Since January 2023, the USK's review bodies have been able to take such functions into account in the legal age rating process. This change goes back to the amendment of the German Youth Protection Act in May 2021.

In concrete terms, this means that the USK's review bodies can check in individual cases whether certain online functions may pose a significant risk to the "personal integrity" of children and young people. In other words, whether there is a potential impairment of psychological well-being due to external influences or additional functions contained in the game. For example, through inappropriate contact via chats contained in the game or unwanted spending due to increased purchase incentives.

When considering whether these circumstances justify a higher age level, the sensitizing effect of additional information is taken into account in particular. But also the appropriateness and effectiveness of the precautionary measures included. These include "parental control systems" provided by the providers, which parents can use to responsibly monitor their children's gaming behavior.

What are the key topics of discussion for the review bodies?

A particular focus of the USK's independent review bodies is, for example, on insufficiently secure chats, intrusive purchase requests or the non-transparent design of in-game stores. Many sports games also feature complex monetization systems and existing reward mechanisms in combination with long playing times. These are necessary, for example, to obtain good game characters (such as soccer or basketball players) for your own team.

According to the review panels, such mechanisms create a high level of pressure to act and increased incentives to buy and play. As these incentives to buy and play persist despite the existence of precautionary measures, they can have a lasting negative impact on younger children's ability to self-regulate their gaming behavior.

Only with older children from the age of 12 is it generally assumed that they are able to adequately recognize and reflect on such mechanisms and thus use them in the sense of self-regulation. However, a case-by-case assessment remains essential each time a game is examined.

What should parents always look out for when choosing games?

When choosing games for their children, parents should always pay attention to the USK age rating. These provide information about the safety of a game for certain age groups. They also provide information about the main reasons for an age rating and the online functions contained in the game through the additional information provided. This allows parents to see at a glance which risks need to be considered when using the media. Possible risks are, for example, "chats","in-game purchases" or "location sharing". If necessary, parents can then make parental control settings in the game or on their children's devices.

Tips for parents

This article was kindly provided to us by the USK. The original article was published on October 27, 2023 under the title "'EA Sports FC 24', 'eFootball 2024' and Co. - This is how the current ruling practice affects sports games".

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