In video games, loot boxes or prize crates are a type of a consumable item that can be redeemed to receive other virtual items or help to advance through the game. Loot boxes have become highly popular over the last few months, because they sparked quite a debate on whether they should be considered gambling or not. Several USA states have started investigating this matter, and, more recently, Belgium said that loot boxes should be considered illegal, and asked the developers to remove them from the games.
Namely, Belgium is said to might seek criminal prosecution over loot boxes in video games, as they think they are considered gambling. The Belgian Gaming Commission launched an investigation into the matter. Belgium’s gambling authority accentuated the use of loot boxes in games such as FIFA 18, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch. The Commission suggested that the companies that made these games (Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts and Valve) could face severe fines or even jail time. Director of the BGC, Peter Naessens, said for GamesIndustry.biz that this was no warning, that the Commission will take any measures necessary to persecute the said companies. They will need time, but they will endure whatever it takes.
Before any of the said measures take place, Belgian minister of justice Koen Geens will have a meeting with representatives of the companies and other influential people from the gaming industry. They will discuss the matter to details and may even come to an understanding. One of the possible solutions to the loot boxes problem could be age verification when buying gift cards or promo codes, or a ban for minors.
EA, on the other hand, does not perceive loot boxes as a means of gambling and remain one publisher that will continue to implement them into their games. They state that “it isn’t gambling as long as you tell people what the odds of a reward are”. Players are guaranteed a certain amount of rewards with each purchase of a loot box, making them a completely legal way to obtain certain items in a game.
The outcome of the meeting with the representatives of the big gaming companies can potentially have global consequences. Many countries have also started their own investigation into the matter of loot boxes, including Spain, USA, Germany, Asia and Finland. There is a widespread concern about the use of the gambling mechanisms in the gaming industry.
There is no doubt that video game producers make a huge amount of money from the sales of loot boxes. They are always coming up with new ways of implementing loot boxes into their games and earning an even bigger profit. Multiple microtransaction patterns are put into games to lure players to spend real money on virtual items without even noticing.
BGC thinks that there are less harmful ways of earning money through making video games – without implementing gambling strategies into stuff that should be fun. Loot boxes indeed exist because developing a video game is not an easy task. It is an expensive business, and the development has increased significantly over the last few years. Players are reluctant to accept price raises, thus a new game costs approximately the same as it did 10 years ago.
Having all this in mind, the outcome of Belgium’s criminal persecution remains to be seen. There is no doubt that gamers everywhere would welcome the removal of these means of purchase – there is nothing worse than being forced to spend real money to advance in a game. Should the loot boxes be eliminated, developers would have to come up with different monetizing strategies.