It could lead to fines or the games being pulled from sale.
Electronic Arts and DICE have faced no shortage of criticism over Star Wars: Battlefront II’s loot box and their microtransactions. Now, along with Overwatch for its own loot boxes, the Belgian Gaming Commission is investigating the boxes to see if their randomization constitute gambling.
“If there is a game of chance, it is not possible without a permit from the Gaming Commission,” Belgian Gaming Commission Director Peter Naessens told VTM News.
The exact problem stems from EA/DICE and Activision Blizzard selling users loot boxes without disclosing what’s inside of them or what the chances are that they’ll unlock specific items. Naessens explained that spending money to ostensibly get something you want but not knowing what your odds of actually getting that something makes for a game of chance. The director added that games of chance are dangerous to minors.
The Commission also believes such games can cause players to become addicted to them, leading to financial hardship.
“Games of chance cannot be compared to any other kind of economic services,” reads the Commission’s website. “They may cause people to become addicted to gambling and cause them to lose a great deal of money. For this reason, a number of protective measures have been implemented to protect players against these sorts of potential risks.”
Naessens stated that if the games are determined to feature gambling then they could be pulled from sale and/or EA and Activsion Blizzard could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Earlier this month, Blizzard President and co-founder Mike Morhaime told Game Informer he didn’t believe Overwatch’s loot box system could be considered gambling. His reasoning was that the items unlocked in the boxes held no real-world value.
Overwatch’s loot boxes contain purely cosmetic items, but that may or may not make any difference to the Belgian Gaming Commission.
For its part, DICE conducted a Reddit AMA yesterday featuring several key developers from the Battlefront II team. The developers promised they would continue fine-tuning the game’s loot box unlock systems in an effort to appease gamers upset with the game’s alleged pay-to-win setup.
Meanwhile, the ESRB, the games industry’s independent American ratings board, told Kotaku last month that it does not believe loot box systems can equate to gambling. The ESRB’s reasoning is that customers always get something, even if they don’t know what that something, which may or may not be what they want, will be.
“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling,” said a spokesperson. “While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”