After months of investigating, the Belgian Gaming Commission has made a decision on loot boxes in games, and it’s not good news for publishers.
Belgium is now the second European country to declare that Loot Boxes are indeed gambling, and, under Belgian law, illegal. The commission looked at Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive when making its decision. Only Star Wars Battlefront II was found to not be in violation after EA pulled loot boxes out of the game permanently.
As for the other titles, the gaming commission ruled that their loot boxes are ruled by chance and fall under Belgian gambling law. A statement put out by Minister of Justice Koen Geens (translated by Eurogamer) declared the three games illegal and demanded that publishers remove them from their games or risk prison and a ‘fine of up to 800,000 euros.’ Punishments double when minors are involved. It is unknown if games that weren’t investigated, such as Call of Duty: WWII and Destiny 2, are subject to punishment.
The next steps involve Belgium working with publishers and developers to hash out how to remove loot boxes from games released in Belgium. Whether or not the industry will put up a fight remains to be seen, but it isn’t just Belgium they’ll have to fight with. Last week, the Netherlands made the same ruling as Belgium, and several other European countries are currently conducting their own investigations. Regulation within the United States remains an uphill climb after two bills were defeated in Hawaii and no word from Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
Still, publishers are rapidly changing their strategies in reaction to consumer outcry in 2017. Following loot box controversies from Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Destiny 2, and Star Wars Battlefront II, publishers have begun to push away from the controversial practice. EA fully removed loot boxes from Star Wars Battlefront II, replacing them with a proper progression system and the ability to buy what you want. Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions opted to pull microtransactions completely out of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, though they waited quite a while. Even Ubisoft managed to pull back by not including loot boxes in Far Cry 5. Apple, meanwhile, is enforcing new rules that require apps with loot boxes to disclose the odds of obtaining items before purchase, which is a lot more than what the ESRB is doing.
How today’s ruling will affect the industry remains to be seen, but it’s a step forward. We’ll keep you updated on this evolving story.