Following the Netherlands’ decision to deem loot boxes with “real-world” value unlawful, Belgium has reached a similar decision. Yes, Belgium has become the newest country to declare loot boxes in video games illegal. Belgium’s Minister of Justice spoke out on this on April 25, 2018.
The Belgian Gaming commission had investigated loot box usage in popular games like Star Wars Battlefront II, FIFA 18, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Battlefront was the only game that was deemed to not be in violation of any Belgian gaming laws. Electronic Arts, the developer of Star Wars Battlefront II, did a full rework of the in-game loot boxes. This contributed to them not being in violation of the laws. According to a statement from Belgium’s Minister of Justice Koen Geens, loot boxes are considered “games of chance” and are therefore illegal. The Minister of Justice has demanded that the loot boxes be pulled from FIFA 18, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive immediately, or the games’ publishers could face an 800,000 Euro ($975, 000 USD) fine and up to 5 years in prison.
The Netherlands Gaming Authority’s investigation of 10 game titles deemed four titles in violation of the Netherlands’ gaming laws. They claim offering “games of chance” to Dutch consumers is prohibited without a license. Loot boxes, the NGA believes, are similar to something like a slot machine or roulette in both mechanics and design. Both countries have concerns about how loot boxes could create gambling addictions in youths and young adults.
The Japanese Social Gaming Association implemented two regulatory guidelines for what they call in-game gacha: provide a minimum 1% payout rate and establish a payment ceiling. For example, if a player has invested a specific amount of money, the player is then given the chance to choose a reward from the pool freely. The Japanese Online Gaming Association, Japan’s current regulatory body for online gaming, has the following guidelines: listing all available rewards from the loot box and payout rates of all rewards, and listing changes to all available rewards and payout rates upon software revision, specifically during a festive campaign with a deadline.
In the United States, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), does not consider loot boxes a form of gambling. Loot boxes are viewed as being voluntary and optional to the game. Rating such games as “Real-Gambling” puts them as “Adult Only” and may harm the publisher. The Star Wars Battlefront II criticism caused financial analysts to suggest the video game industry will need to develop self-regulating principals of loot boxes to avoid any possible government intervention. If a game does offer in-game or in-app purchases, the ESRB does require the game to be labeled as such for parents. The specific form these micro-transactions takes is not required though.
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