EA, Activision Blizzard, Valve Could Face Criminal Prosecution in Belgium Over Loot Boxes

The Belgian Gaming Commission has released their research report on loot boxes, and they’re recommending criminal prosecution against EA, Valve, and Activision.

Belgium is one of two European countries to recently rule that the loot boxes present in FIFA 18, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch are illegal. While The Netherlands has yet to come forward with threats against the industry, Belgium is moving full steam ahead. The Belgian Gaming Commission’s report on the subject is out, and the commission’s top suggestion is criminal prosecution against the three game’s publishers.

Criminal prosecution will not proceed until Belgian minister of justice Koen Geens’ much anticipated meeting with industry stakeholders. However, should the meeting not produce actionable results, BGC director Peter Nassens is prepared to draft police reports, he said to GamesIndustry.

The lengthy report also provided other recommendations, including specific permits for games that feature loot boxes and marking them according, age verification when purchasing codes or gift cards, and a ban on minors being able to buy games with loot boxes. The commission also recommended that publishers make clear the winning odds and implement user spending limits.

According to the BGC, gambling is defined by when a wager can lead to a win or loss for a player, and where chance may have a secondary role in the course of the game, winner, or winnings. The BGC specifically brought up Overwatch as an example. The purchasable loot boxes are the wager. The chance of winning or losing concerns the wager against the value of the items in the box. While the items can’t be sold or exchanged for real-world money, the items have player-ascribed value due to artificial scarcity, limited time items, and the levels of rarity. According to the report, it would take 1,300-1,600 loot boxes to collect every item in the game.

The BGC also hammered the games for luring players into purchasing loot boxes using behavioral manipulation. They demonstrated this by focusing on Activision’s patent that encouraged micotransaction purchases by pairing players with specific items to those who didn’t have the item. Another example brought up was FIFA 18’s Ultimate Team loot boxes where the popular soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is used to advertise the most expensive loot boxes. Then there are the limited time events that put an artificial timer on specific items to drive loot box sales.

 

The BGC’s announcement is the latest chapter in the ongoing Loot Box Saga that kicked off late last year thanks to Star Wars Battlefront II. Battlefront II was also under investigation by the BGC but was cleared after EA and DICE removed all loot boxes from the game. EA, however, is unwilling to let go of FIFA 18’s loot boxes. Yesterday, during an earnings call, CEO Andrew Wilson defended loot boxes and declared they will not be pulled from the company’s sports titles. Blizzard Entertainment and Valve have not made statements. It is unknown how this ruling will affect other games with loot boxes, including Call of Duty: WWII and Destiny 2.

Belgium and the Netherlands are the first of many countries expected to come out against loot boxes. The BGC is already speaking with officials across the world, which means we might be hearing about more action soon.