Belgium follows Netherlands in declaring gaming ‘loot boxes’ illegal

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The monetisation of online video game play is once again under spotlight with the news that Belgium has followed its neighbour the Netherlands in banning the in-game purchase of ‘loot boxes’ in some video games.

Following an investigation, the Belgium Gaming Commission drew similar conclusions to its Dutch counterpart, finding that the popular features constituted “a game of chance”.

Just last week, the Dutch regulator published comparable findings, concluding: “Loot boxes are similar to gambling games such as slot machines and roulette in terms of design and mechanisms.”

Examining the loot-box features in four leading video games – Star Wars Battlefront II, Overwatch, FIFA 18 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, the Belgian commission concluded: “Players can buy a ‘loot box’ against payment – which can give them an advantage in the game – without knowing their contents in advance.

“Developers are increasingly using systems to get players to [pay] real money once they have purchased a game.

“The Gaming Commission now judges that [as a result of the findings] at least three video games are in violation of the gambling legislation.”

“In the case of FIFA 18, Overwatch and CS:GO, the Gaming Commission considers that the system of loot boxes is a game of chance that is subject to Belgian gaming law. The developer of Star Wars Battlefront II made some adjustments shortly after the launch, so that the system of loot boxes in that game no longer technically forms a game of chance.”

In a damning statement, the Commission cited poor protection for the players: “The fact that it is often minor players is worrying. The hidden character of gambling is extra problematic in the case of children. If this is not properly arranged, games of chance in video games will cause great damage to people, family and society.”

Instructing the operators of the three titles in question to remove the loot boxes, the Commission said that by not doing so, operators risk a prison sentence “of up to five years and a fine of up to €800,000,” adding that, when minors are involved, those punishments can be doubled.

Belgium’s minister of justice, Koen Geens, who requested the investigation, said: “Mixing games and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for mental health. We have already taken numerous measures to protect both minors and adults against the influence of, among other things, gambling advertising.

“That is why we must also ensure that children and adults are not confronted with games of chance when they are looking for fun in a video game.”