Belgium Says Loot Boxes In Games Like Overwatch Are Illegal

Loot boxes in FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are now illegal in Belgium, with the country's legislators declaring today that if the games' publishers don't remove the offending microtransactions, people behind the games could face fines and even time behind bars.

In games such as FIFA 18 people can spend money to open packs of cards containing players for their online team. Screenshot: YouTube

As reported by Eurogamer, Belgium minister of justice Koen Greens said in a statement that the loot boxes in these games were in violation of the country's gaming legislation and thus the companies selling them are subject to criminal punishment, including fines of up to €800,000 ($1.3 million) and prison sentences.

This determination was made after Belgium's Gaming Commission spent several months reviewing how loot boxes operated in these games and others following the controversy surrounding Star Wars: Battlefront 2's microtransactions. Since then, many stories have come to light about how much money some people have spent on loot boxes and other in-game purchases, and the practice as a whole has come under a lot of scrutiny.

The criteria the commission used to decide whether loot boxes constituted gambling were whether there was a game element involved, whether a bet could lead to profit or loss, and whether it was based on chance rather than skill. As a result, the commission decided FIFA 18, Overwatch and CS:GO involved games of chance and should be subject to Belgian gaming law.

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 ended up not being part of the decision, since at the time of the survey EA had temporarily removed microtransactions from the game. The company recently re-added microtransactions, but you can no longer spend real money on loot boxes in the game - you can only buy cosmetic items directly.

"The Belgian Gaming Commission has not contacted us or shared its report," an EA spokesperson told Kotaku in an email. "We strongly believe that our games are developed and implemented ethically and lawfully around the world, and take these responsibilities very seriously.

"We care deeply that our players are having a fun and fair experience in all of our games, and take great care to ensure each game is marketed responsibly, including in compliance with regional ratings standards. We would welcome the dialogue with Minister Geens on these topics, as we do not agree that our games can be considered as any form of gambling."

Neither Overwatch publisher Blizzard nor CS:GO publisher Valve immediately responded to requests for comment.

Overwatch loot boxes randomly award rare character skins and other cosmetics. Screenshot: YouTube

Belgium's announcement comes just over a week after the Netherlands Gaming Authority found four out of the 10 loot boxes it was investigating violated Dutch law and needed to be revised by June 20.

As reported by Eurogamer, the games in question were FIFA 18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Rocket League, with the Netherlands Gaming Authority most concerned about the addictive element of loot boxes in these games, specifically with regard to how they affect minors.

It isn't surprising that European countries have been the first to move so forcefully against microtransactions in games perceived to be gambling. In 2015, the UK's Consumer Rights Act forced companies such as Sony, Microsoft and Valve to offer refunds for games found to be faulty in some way. More recently, Norway's Consumer Council pressed Nintendo to allow people to get refunds for pre-ordered games that had not yet been released.

Legislators in the US have been slower to act on the issue of microtransactions. Hawaii House of Representatives member Chris Lee called loot boxes gambling last November and the state is currently considering two different bills that would regulate them.

At the US federal level, New Hampshire Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan asked the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to re-examine the issue of loot boxes last February but did not press for any more concrete action. The ESRB responded by adding an "In-Game Purchases" label to boxed games that allow you to spend money on in-game content.

Some companies have taken it upon themselves to at least be more transparent about the odds associated with their microtransactions. Last December, Apple revised the guidelines for its App Store to require companies to reveal the odds of any loot boxes in their games. More recently in February, Riot, makers of the incredibly popular PC game League of Legends, revealed the probabilities of getting certain items from its loot boxes.

The Belgium Minister of Justice didn't announce any specific timeline for when the games found to be in violation of its gambling laws would need to have their loot boxes revised or removed. Instead, Geens' statement calls for further dialogue between the different parties involved.


Comments

    Outstanding news.

    It should be illegal to sell “lucky dip” loot boxes to anyone under the age of 18 here too. It’s exploitative and it’s gambling.

    I don’t mind them selling products where you consumers know what they’re buying.

      I believe the Australian government or at least a couple of the specific state governments were investigating this recently, but I am unsure of the conclusion.

        Their conclusion was "not our jurisdiction, but we are watching"

      I agree for the most part but what about physical items that use the same mechanic? Collectors cards and toys are often sold in 'blind' packs. Surely these prey on the same desires that loot boxes do in games. Should football cards be banned too?

        They can, but I think there's a fundamental difference to physical blind packs; video games are able to directly remind you to buy in and then facilitate that purchase on the spot. It'd only be similar if when you lost a game of MTG that your opponent tried to sell you booster packs after you lost, and the manufacturer was taking a cut of that through some kind of agreement. So games have a lot more leverage, and so deserve more attention.

          Yeah. A big aspect cited by most official groups critical of loot-boxes is the psychological 'casino-style' tricks that games have mimicked that you simply can't do in a booster pack.

          Don't get me wrong, I despise the whole concept of loot boxes and the way some games try and influence players into purchasing them is morally questionable at best. The idea behind them however is no different to collectible cards - prevent the customer from seeing what they are buying so they'll inevitably have to buy more to complete the collection. Whether it's Overwatch or Pokemon it's the same thing.

          We need to be careful with why loot boxes are banned because they are not the only place the concept is used. Nobody wants to see kids banned from collecting and trading football cards for example. So I don't agree, as the original post said, that banning 'lucky dips' for kids is the solution. The solution needs to focus on the morally bankrupt mechanisms behind video game loot boxes and not the fact that they are random.

            I'm not sure why we should assume that "Nobody wants to see kids banned from collecting and trading football cards for example."

            As you note, the whole idea behind blind packs is to ensure that players buy far more product than they otherwise would.

            Many schools do, in fact, ban trading cards precisely because of the negative effects, including older kids scamming younger kids out of high value cards for commons (a real-value gambling aspect of trading cards) and pressure for kids to spend all their pocket money on cards (or beg parents) so as not to be left out. For some people, trading cards also clearly have a similar addictive effect to loot boxes.

            Trading cards should be banned, at least from sale to children. Hopefully this whole loot box controversy starts legislators thinking about the issue more broadly.

              Good point. Perhaps I'm a little to old to appreciate the way trading cards are done these days. My point is that trading cards used to be a harmless yet engaging way for kids to interact socially and we need to be careful we don't restrict something in other areas by an over-zealous reaction to what's happening in gaming. If cards truly are a problem then perhaps they need to be looked at as well.

                When I was growing up, trading cards were essentially limited to every card in the set being randomly shuffled into packs at the same ratio, bundled with a stick of chewing gum. As a result, buying enough packs to collect the whole set, plus a little over as a float, was more than enough to trade your way into a full collection.

                Nowadays there are at least three levels of rarity, plus foils, signature cards and god knows what else. Add on to this a game element where not ketting a key card for your deck puts you at a serious competitive disadvantage amongst your fellow Polkemon players.

                Trading cards are no longer as harmless as many adults remember them to be.

                As someone who used to magic the gathering , I can definitely say if banning lootboxes also caused card games to alter their business model, I would not loose one drop of sleep / nor care one iota. The business practices of selling people a "chance" of something is inherently manipulative and far to vulnerable to abuse. It deserves the hardline legeslative response it's been getting and more.

                This is the first and only time I've actually wanted government legesalation against videogames. Mainly because I don't believe the industry is capable of self regulating.

    Isn't it then a failure of gaming classification board PEGI to allow these games to be sold if they are in fact illegal for containing loot boxes?

      Shhh.

      We don't talk about the (non-existent) failings of any (totally relevant) Classification Boards. Especially if you live on a certain large island that contains over-sized bipedal mice.

      PEGI and ESRB are industry protection groups. They classify games so the government doesnt have to interfere with them.

      They didnt want toclassify lootboxes cause the industry didnt want them too.

      The Belgium government only today declared them illegal after an investigation. So pegi should have done 2 things;
      1, predict the future
      2, stop being a body that not only represents the EU but also other nations such as Israel and just represent Belgium only.

      PEGI isn't a classification board in the sense that the Australian Classification Board is. It is an industry group offering recommendations (like the ESRB), rather than a government group making authoritative statements about who can buy/play certain games.

      So it isn't that surprising that the PEGI ratings don't match up with every Euopean country's laws. We already see cases of games that are banned in Germany for use of Nazi imagery that are legal in other European countries: they still get a PEGI rating.

    Best part they are the unofficial capital of the EU... so what they make law has a greater chance to influence EU policy, the other nations will take notice.

    Amazing news!

    Overwatch's loot boxes are discussing. They need to change to MTX in the very least.

    It's pure disgusting people are giving Overwatch a free pass just because it's 'cosmetic'. Paid loot box, especially when kids are allowed to play the game is completely unacceptable. Just make a damn shop where you can buy the cosmetic directly, why make it loot box? Damn right it's exploiting the human psychology

      With each lootbox season, if a player buys a bundle of lootboxes they can be out of pocket already $50 to $100 a month on just cosmetics just to be a completionist or "hardcore" fan (and buy as many as their favourite streamer)

      People give overwatch a free pass because they like the game. Then you have to say they're different so you're not a hypocrite.

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