Yesterday, the Belgium Gambling Commission issues a ruling that the Loot Boxes in several popular games are now considered illegal, and developers face huge penalties if they do not remove them immediately.
The Commission reviewed 4 popular games – Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive during this process, and their findings determined that the FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counterstrike games have Loot Boxes that can be considered gambling. These Loot Boxes can be won via a game of chance, which is deemed to be gambling in Belgium and therefore illegal. The only reason that Star Wars was spared in this report is that the publisher removed the Loot Boxes already.
This decision comes right after the Dutch Gaming Authority came to the same conclusion. Neither country has taken a soft stance on this decision; the Belgium Gambling Commission has declared that offending publishers face up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to 800,000 Euro. The Commission is clearly watching out for the minors who are playing these games the most and restricting the introduction of games of chance from the video game world.
What are Loot Boxes?
To better understand how the Commission came to this ruling, you need to understand how these Loot Boxes work. These are boxes you can purchase with real money, searching for specific rewards, and opening each box reveals whether or not you have “won” the item you are looking for. In technical terms, at least in the eyes of these two gaming regulators, this adds up to gambling. We can see that side of the argument, but because you cannot trade the items for anything of value, it is hard to determine if it is the same as playing a slot machine.
The decision by Belgium’s Gambling Commission only confirms what the Netherlands already took measures to criminalize. It is assumed that other countries will quickly follow this precedent. Now, the publishers and developers need to find a way to remove these Loot Boxes as quickly as possible, but they also must come up with a solution to replace the revenue being generated by purchases of the games of chance.
What This Means Going Forward
This may all be a moot point, as there will still be ways for companies to circumvent the law. The Loot Boxes could be considered a “free gift” with purchase of another completely legal item, and in fact, this is something that Blizzard has already tried with success in the Chinese market. Games developers are smart folks, and likely are already working on a workaround to preserve the concept while conforming to the new rules.
From a different perspective, this decision only serves to further blur the lines between gambling and gaming. esports is big business, and these days it seems like more and more tours are popping up which pay minors millions of dollars for winning events. It is safe to say that this train has left the station, and in light of there being no consistent laws (if any at all) governing the video game world, we are a long way from sorting all of this out.
We aren’t certain what the impact of this ruling will have on the esports industry or esports betting as a whole, but as more countries jump on this bandwagon, it can be expected that the eyes of the gaming regulators will be squarely on the concept of playing video games for money. For now, we will wait to see what other countries follow in the footsteps of The Netherlands and Belgium, and what the game publishers and developers do in response.
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