Last month, the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) deemed loot boxes in some video games as gambling. After launching an investigation into the matter, the country’s gambling authority raised issue with the loot boxes in games such as FIFA 18, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch. At the time, the BGC suggested that the companies behind the offending games could face hefty fines or even jail time, and it seems that the authority is now actively seeking criminal prosecution.
The BGC is actively recommending that criminal prosecution is taken out against Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Valve, the publishers behind those games. Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, BGC director Peter Naessens suggested that this isn’t just a warning, explaining, “We are going to take all preparatory measures for the drafting of police reports.” It’s “not going to be tomorrow,” explained Naessens, who added that “there is a certain amount of time for the minister of justice, but it’s not unlimited.”
Before employees from leading companies are locked up or heavily fined, however, Belgian minister of justice Koen Geens will meet with figures from the industry in order to discuss the matter. It is also possible that the parties will be able to come to an understanding, perhaps by introducing age verification in stores when purchasing codes or gift cards, or a ban on minors being able to purchase games with loot boxes. These are some of the other recommendations from the BGC and will be the preferred outcomes by industry bodies. EA, for example, maintains that loot boxes are not gambling, and is one publisher that will be especially keen not to see loot boxes banned altogether.
But the outcome of that meeting could potentially have global ramifications. Naessen confirmed that the BGC has been in contact with regulators from the United States, Spain, Finland, Asia, and Germany, which has also launched its own loot box gambling investigation. “I cannot say there will be a European-wide common approach,” said Naessens, though “there is at least a common concern among regulators about those loot boxes and the use of gambling mechanisms in video games.”
Video game publishers make a significant amount of money from the sales of loot boxes, and they have invested significant time and effort into figuring out how to make the business model more lucrative. For example, Activision has multiple microtransaction related patents which could potentially be used to drive loot boxes, as well as outright cosmetic purchases. As such, many gaming companies will be hoping that this matter can be resolved quickly and that regulatory bodies are not too harsh.