Back in November 2017, Beglian justice minister Koen Geens kicked off an investigation with Belgium’s Gaming Commission to determine whether loot boxes could be considered gambling and therefore regulated, and the conclusions are bad news for publishers like Activision-Blizzard, Valve, and EA.
The Gaming Commission looked at FIFA 18, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Star Wars Battlefront II and determined that the loot boxes in the first three games are indeed a form of gambling and therefore must be regulated. Star Wars Battlefront II skated by in the investigation as EA had already removed that games’ microtransactions at the time.
The commission found that the loot boxes in FIFA 18, Overwatch, and CS:GO created a “game of chance that is subject to Belgian gambling law,” specifically in that players can (or believe they can) “buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be,” according to a translation of a statement from Geens.
Because the loot boxes in these titles are a form of gambling that is easily accessible to minors, the Belgian Gaming Commission decided that these loot boxes “are therefore in violation of gaming legislation and can be dealt with under criminal law.”
If these loot boxes are not removed from these games, publishers “risk a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 800,000 euros,” or around $974,000. Furthermore, these punishments may be doubled if the violations affect minors.
Before these rules are enforced, however, Geens and the rest of the gaming commission want to have a conversation with game publishers and developers to determine who will be responsible for removing these loot boxes. From Geens’ tone, it doesn’t sound like this ruling is negotiable, though it seems that games like Overwatch or CS:GO might have some wiggle room, considering their loot boxes only contain cosmetic items.
Belgium’s ruling is hardest legal pushback against loot boxes we’ve seen, but it isn’t the only country that’s starting to crack down on them. The Netherlands recently declared that loot boxes in four unnamed games that contained items with real-world value (like Rocket League and, again, FIFA 18) were in violation of its own gambling laws and would be subject to fines or outright bans if changes weren’t made.
According to the previously mentioned statement, the main objective in Belgium’s recent loot box investigation was to protect minors from being exposed to a process that could form a gambling addiction at an early age.
“The hidden character of gambling is extra problematic in the case of children,” Geens stated. “If this is not properly arranged, games of chance in video games will cause great damage to people, family and society.”
Following backlash against Star Wars Battlefront II, EA recently promised that it will “be better” with how it implements microtransactions and loot boxes in future titles, specifically the next Battlefield title and BioWare’s Anthem. However, Belgium’s recent declaration against FIFA 18‘s Ultimate Team card packs show that the publisher could be in even hotter water with its sports titles.