With the recent release of the Belgian Gaming Commission’s (BGC) research on video game loot boxes comes the clear definition of what is considered gambling and what’s fair game under Belgium law. Top offenders accused of violating these standards (EA, Valve, Activision Blizzard) may soon face criminal prosecution.
Loot boxes are just one of many methods of monetizing video games in recent years. Players can purchase loot boxes using in-game or real-world currency. The randomized nature of the contents encourages players to keep buying — which some consider a compulsion similar to gambling as players aim to get better rewards. Much like the Netherlands, Belgium is cracking down on what it perceives as game industry giants blurring the line between gaming and gambling.
The current nature of loot boxes available in popular titles, including “Overwatch” and “FIFA 18,” border close to the BGC’s definition of gambling: a game in which a cost from the player can lead to loss or win for at least one person, and where chance plays a role in the progression of the game, the winner, or worth of the winnings.
“Both in the purchase of loot boxes and in the entire operation of the game, all of this can lead to pure manipulation of individuals or groups of players,” according to the BGC’s report.
In order to avoid manipulative practices, the BGC has recommended player-spending limits as well as age verification methods to avoid targeting children, who could be the most susceptible to the compulsion to keep purchasing loot boxes. The BGC also suggested that players should have access to the odds of winning, and the commission itself have access to the random number generators used in the loot box mechanics to determine the value of the rewards. The BGC also suggests that there should be clear indication, before purchase, that the titles contain gambling.
Minister of Justice Koen Geens intends to open a dialogue between the BGC, the developers, and distributors before moving forward with any potential prosecution.
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