EU Countries Are Calling Loot Boxes a Form of Gambling And Developers Could Face Consequences

Developers of popular games such as PUBG, Overwatch, and Star Wars: Battlefront II could face fines or worse in the EU.

Loot boxes are essentially chests that contain items such as weapons, armor, accessories or vanity items like skins. These boxes can either be earned in-game through experience, currency or purchased offline with money. Players have no control over what is inside the box. There's a chance for items that will help game performance. Where the conflict comes in is loot boxes' game model being similar to gambling, which can make gambling accessible to youth. Countries like Germany, Belgium and Netherlands are considering taking action to prevent the pay-2-win, loot box gaming models because it violates their policies on gambling.

The University of Hamburg conducted research that found pay-2-win game models are very similar to gambling. The chairman of the Youth Protection Commission, Wolfgang Kreißig, said: "I think it is conceivable that Loot boxes could violate the ban on buying appeals to children and adolescents,"which violates the Youth Protection Act.

Belgium's De Standaard reports that the Belgian Gaming Commission is specifically investigating Overwatch, Star Wars: Battlefront II, FIFA 2018 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive for "evidence of illegal games of chance smuggled in the games." In order to for a game to be considered to be illegal, the game must meet four conditions: it has to be a game, with a certain commitment, that leads to a profit or loss for the player and where chance plays. Competent minister Koen Geens (CD & V) developers can be fined up to 800,000 euros and five years in prison if they don't remove loot boxes from games.

The Netherland's Dutch Gaming Authority investigated ten games and found 4 of the 10 games they reviewed found that "because the prizes to be won can be traded outside the game: the prices have economic value. It is forbidden to offer this type of games of chance to Dutch players without a license." The Dutch Gaming Authority is giving developers until June 20, 2018 to modify or eliminate their loot box models or face consequences, which include publicizing the names of the game developers, titles fines and or prohibition from sales in Netherlands. Popular titles that could be determined to violate the Dutch's Betting and Gambling Act include FIFA 2018, Dota2, PUBG and Rocket League.

Other nations around the world are also concerned. However, the Gambling Commission in Britain said "publishers of games must buy a gambling licence only if the contents of loot boxes can be converted back into money' according to The Economist.

Two Hawaiian State Representatives, Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan have also voiced concerns over loot boxes. In an interview with Rolling Stone's Glixel, Quinlan threatened to take action against developers who use loot boxes if they fail to "self police". And during a press conference, Lee said "This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money" about Star Wars: Battlefront II. "It's a trap."

The Entertainment Software Associate told Glixel in an interview:

Loot boxes are a voluntary feature in certain video games that provide players with another way to obtain virtual items that can be used to enhance their in-game experiences. They are not gambling. Depending on the game design, some loot boxes are earned and others can be purchased. In some games, they have elements that help a player progress through the video game. In others, they are optional features and are not required to progress or succeed in the game. In both cases, the gamer makes the decision.
— Entertainment Software Association