Another blow has rained down on the video gaming industry’s love of loot boxes yesterday. Following hot on the heels of a decision last week by the Netherlands, plucky Belgium has declared loot boxes are gambling and therefore illegal. Minister of Justice Koen Geens said publishers could risk prison sentences and fines if these games with loot boxes continue to be distributed in Belgium. The minister reasoned that minors and vulnerable players particularly, should not be confronted with 'games of chance' when they want some video gaming fun.
To consider this thorny issue of in-game loot boxes, the Belgian Gaming Commission looked at Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. All the games were judged to be conduits for 'games of chance', except for Star Wars Battlefront 2, and will thus be subject to Belgian gambling law. Star Wars Battlefront 2 escaped the judgement as it had removed loot boxes following vociferous player dissatisfaction with these and other microtransactions, and fearing the impending scrutiny of various European governments. Recently in HEXUS news we reported that EA has learned from the Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box debacle.
Discussing specific penalties publishers might face if they do not remove loot boxes, the Belgian Minister of Justice stated that offending publishers could face up to five years in jail and fines of up to €800,000. If minors are involved these numbers can be doubled.
Gambling shouldn’t be introduced to minors, young people and the vulnerable though the backdoor of video gaming entertainment seems - to be the thrust of the Belgian decision. The government must “ensure that children and adults are not confronted with games of chance when they are looking for fun in a video game,” asserted the minister. Geens wants to talk directly to games publishers and developers about removing loot boxes. Already his government has acted to reduce gambling advertising but there has been no deadline set for action concerning the above matters.
Eurogamer ends its piece about the Belgian Gaming Commission decision by reminding UK dwellers that our Gambling Commission has yet to signal that anything will be done about video game loot boxes. It seems to be struggling to classify loot boxes in games as gambling, as there isn’t a ‘cash out’ system. If there is truly a risk to children, it was suggested by the executive director of the UK Gambling Commission, then that issue would come under the auspices of child protection, rather than gambling.