Following a statement on April 25 from Belgium’s Minister of Justice, Koen Geens, it has been decided that three of four games investigated have been found in violation of the country’s gambling legislation for including loot boxes, a means of spending real money to get an in-game advantage or cosmetic items. FIFA 18, Overwatch, Star Wars: Battlefront II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive were all investigated by Belgium’s Gaming Commission, and out of the four, only Battlefront II was found to not be in violation, due to the temporary removal of such features after the massive controversy that swarmed the game’s launch.
The official press release gives an idea as to how these violations were judged, which says, “To speak of a game of chance, the Gaming Commission uses four parameters. If there is a game element, a bet can lead to a profit or loss, and chance has a role in the game [then it is considered gambling].” In the case of loot boxes, it is argued that simply opening a loot box is a bet, usually done with the expectation that one will receive a specific item, cosmetic or otherwise. Obtaining or not obtaining the item desired can be considered a profit or a loss, and with results being random, there is no denying that chance has a large role in the process.
The implications this act has for the gaming community has the power to change things for better or worse. On the one hand it may inspire other countries to make a similar decision, but on the other hand, publishers may come up with sneakier ways to make more money from average consumers.
In the meantime, though, Belgium has made demands of game publishers, offering the start of negotiations within the near future. Those who refuse, though, may face consequences.
“The games with paid loot boxes, as currently offered in [Belgium], are therefore in violation of the gaming legislation and can be dealt with under criminal law. The loot boxes must also be removed. If that does not happen, the operators risk a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 800,000 euros. When minors are involved, those punishments can be doubled.”
Another issue that stems from this decision is a timeless one: government interference. Now that Belgium’s Gaming Commission has outlawed one feature mostly seen in AAA games, how many more are next, and will this escalate to outright censorship in the name of protecting children? Playstationlifestyle.net writes, “Loot boxes do need to come under scrutiny, but government’s current way of tackling the issue feels lazy and uninspired, using decades-old laws meant for casino gambling and brushing Overwatch loot boxes under the same rug as slot machines and blackjack tables.”
For better or worse, this action sets a precedent. Be sure to check in with us for any updates on the situation.
The official press release can be found here.