Belgian Gaming Commission recommends prosecutions over loot boxes

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The Belgian Gaming Commission has declared that it is likely to prosecute Electronic Arts, Valve and Activision Blizzard over loot boxes in FIFA 18, Counter-Strike: GO and Overwatch. 

Following swiftly after a report by the Dutch government which concluded that loot boxes in FIFA 18, Dota 2, PUBG and Rocket League contravened local gambling legislation, the Belgian Gaming Commission has published its report setting out parameters for which types of loot boxes fall foul of gambling laws.

Speaking to Gamesindustry.biz, Belgian Gaming Commission director Peter Naessens said: “We are going to take all preparatory measures for the drafting of police reports, but it’s not going to be tomorrow. There is a certain amount of time for the Minister of Justice, but it’s not unlimited.”

The report defines the types of loot boxes which constitute gambling – and contravene gambling laws – thus: “The situation is quite different when it comes to the currencies that can be purchased directly with money (in-game currency). In-game currency is an additional “layer” on top of the game whereby purchases are made in the game with money. These currencies are not necessarily a mandatory part of the content of the game itself but allow the player to collect all sorts of advantages by means of the payment.

“So when the player purchases in-game currency to buy a loot box, this constitutes a wager in the sense of the Belgian Gaming and Betting Act because an asset value is brought into the game that serves as a participation fee/compensation fee for the loot box. This is not the case if the loot box is purchased with game-play currency. A fortiori, a direct purchase of a loot box in the game without the necessity of in-game currency being used, such as in Overwatch and CS GO, is thus considered to be a wager in the sense of the Gaming and Betting Act.”

The report also investigated the loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II, but exonerated it since its real-money in-game microtransactions system has been disabled since launch; were Electronic Arts to enable that system, as it has repeatedly asserted it will, then Star Wars: Battlefront II would join the list of offending games. 

If the Belgian authorities do act on their intention to prosecute games publishers, the outcome is as yet unclear. Withdrawing the offending games from sale in Belgium would be one drastic solution, but the report suggests some alternative scenarios. They include generating specific permits for games that include loot boxes and marking them accordingly, banning minors from buying the offending games and clamping down on age verification when gamers buy codes and gift cards in stores. Publishers may also be forced to display the winning odds associated with loot boxes that contain random objects. 

Any prosecutions will not take place until Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens has conducted a dialogue with the relevant publishers and developers, and Naessens told Gamesindustry.biz: “I cannot say there will be a European-wide common approach. But there is at least a common concern among regulators about those loot boxes and the use of gambling mechanisms in video games, so it will be up for discussion.” Clearly, across Europe, the noose is tightening around loot boxes.