Thursday, April 26, 2018

Belgium Commission Cites Games with Loot Boxes Break Law

The Belgium Gaming Commission has determined that loot boxes in some games are considered gambling, and as such those gamers are subjected to the laws regarding gambling in the country. In a statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens, the games identified were Fifa 18, Overwatch, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II (which kicked off reviewing loot boxes) but determined that it did not apply due to EA scrapping the "pay to win" system.

These particular games were singled out because they meet the commissions "game of chance" definition. "[t]here is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission was concerned that these games draw an emotional profit and don't provide the odds on what you may potentially receive in a loot box.

What does this mean for the developers? Right now Geens wants to start a dialogue with them to determine how to best resolve this. If they can't come to an agreement and the games remain in Belgium, the developers can face a fine of up to €800,000 (there is a potential prison sentence, but those apply only to individuals and not businesses). The fine can be doubled if minors are involved. The alternative is to remove the loot boxes entirely from the region.

Of the games listed, I'm surprised Overwatch is on the list as this is usually the game cited as an example of how loot boxes can work. With Fifa 18 that is a clear cash grab to give bonuses to players, Overwatch's system is purely cosmetic. They're fun cosmetics, but only visual - no game boosts to improve your characters. Of the games listed, Overwatch is the least abusive of loot boxes. Though it is safe to say that all developers/publishers should consider providing some stats on the potential for winning "loot" to give buyers an idea of what they are purchasing. Having the random ambiguity is dishonest and very much akin to gambling.

We'll continue to watch this story as it develops. The game creators have yet to comment.

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