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Loot Boxes Ruled Illegal in Belgium, the Netherlands

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After the Netherlands ruling on Loot Boxes as gambling earlier this month, we now also have Belgium declaring them to be illegal due to their gambling implications. Both countries have strict laws that require special licenses when items obtained via what is considered gambling have a market value, even more rules when an activity is considered gambling, and both have ruled that Loot Boxes do in fact constitute gambling. The Netherlands gaming authority said that "... all of the loot boxes that were studied could be addictive. Loot boxes are similar to gambling games such as slot machines and roulette in terms of design and mechanisms", and the Belgian Justice Minister went further and said that games that have a specific type of Loot Box will have to remove them if they want to avoid penalties (including up to 5 years of jail time and 800,000 Euro fines, which could be doubled when minors are involved).

Quote

"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."
- Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens

While the Netherlands case only ended up naming FIFA 18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Rocket League, the more recent Belgian ruling included Overwatch in its list, joining FIFA 18 and CS:GO. The irony of these rulings is that both studies were prompted mostly by the huge uproar over EA's Star Wars: Battlefront 2, which had the most egregious Loot Box system of them all, but at the time of these investigations the Loot Boxes were suspended from the game due to the fan backlash.

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Both countries want to cooperate with the game developers and publishers to find out which of them should remove the boxes and how to do it, while the Netherlands were slightly more flexible as they only require that the boxes remove "almost winning" effects, visual effects and the ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other, as well as somehow make it possible to exclude vulnerable groups such as children or prove that the Loot Boxes are "harmless". They've also given the companies a deadline by which they need to have the changes done, June 20th, 2018, at which point they'll implement fines and possible bans of the games in question and potentially more.

This whole situation is pretty bad for Overwatch, since among the games listed its Loot Boxes are among the least problematic as they only hold cosmetic items that can't be directly traded, but it got swept up in this controversy anyway. What do you think of the ubiquitous Loot Box system that's been cropping up everywhere (even single player games)?

Source: Eurogamer.

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Good. It's a bullshit way of fucking over consumers. Hope this incentivises developers to actually make good games and not hide content behind a pay wall

*cough*God of War*cough*

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This is what happens when game developers and publishers go to the extremes, non-gamers will notice and the spigot will be shut off. Good thing I say, loot boxes are extremely annoying. I wonder if they'll try what they did with heartstone when China got itchy about it... Then again I don't think EU countries would be that impressed with that style of trickery.

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This is one of the most complicated subjects in the entire history of gaming. What if said loot boxes are obtainable with in-game currency, such as Card Packs for Gold? But then what if Gold can also be bought with real money? Or what if it is the other way around, such as spending gold for WoW tokens that you can then convert into shop currency? Especially if you can then use that shop currency to buy back gold or those loot boxes?

 

What if a company like Blizzard does get a gambling license (Which of course is highly unlikely, but not impossible), you open up another can of worms because minors aren't allowed to gamble anyway (Even with that license), which could then cause an unfair playing field in a game like hearthstone?

 

There are so many questions that even lawyers or judges can't answer immediately.

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I think this is great news! I wonder how this would affect F2P games if it becomes illegal all over the world. 

Edited by Todd

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2 hours ago, Yridaa said:

This is one of the most complicated subjects in the entire history of gaming. What if said loot boxes are obtainable with in-game currency, such as Card Packs for Gold? But then what if Gold can also be bought with real money? Or what if it is the other way around, such as spending gold for WoW tokens that you can then convert into shop currency? Especially if you can then use that shop currency to buy back gold or those loot boxes?

 

What if a company like Blizzard does get a gambling license (Which of course is highly unlikely, but not impossible), you open up another can of worms because minors aren't allowed to gamble anyway (Even with that license), which could then cause an unfair playing field in a game like hearthstone?

 

There are so many questions that even lawyers or judges can't answer immediately.

IMO it is not that difficult.

Are Lootboxes set up like gambling on a slot machine? Is there the "just one more, maybe I'll get lucky" factor that can lead to addiction / wanting to open more and more of them?

If the answer is yes then it leads to the next point.

Is there any way to get more lootboxes with real money? 
If you buy boxes directly, or if you buy diamonds/gold/whatever the ingame-currency is called with real money is totally irrelevant.
If there is any way how you can buy more lootboxes from the publisher the next point is quite easily answered:

If you can buy lootboxes for real money and if lootboxes have the same mechanics like gambling you need a gambling license to sell this product. And you may sell it only to adults.

Which makes the whole game you sell a game for adults only.


Just like you are not allowed to enter a casino with 14, you are not allowed to play Hearthstone with 14.
Then games like Hearthstone will be for 18 or 21 (depending on the law of your country.)


Games with lootboxes will be just like tobacco, alcohol, drugs...: Strictly regulated and only for adults.
 

Quite easy IMO.

 

It is good news for gamers that the lootbox-bullshit may indeed gets regulated. (And by banning kids you effectivly kill the whole cancer called lootboxes.)

I hope the big gaming markets, especially the USA, will follow.
But sadly I expect there will be just some useless "compromize" like a warning on the box: "Hey, don't buy too many lootboxes" or something like that. Totally irrelevant, no impact.

Still, there is hope.

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28 minutes ago, WedgeAntilles said:

If you can buy lootboxes for real money and if lootboxes have the same mechanics like gambling you need a gambling license to sell this product. And you may sell it only to adults.

What if that answer is "no" but there are promotional ways to get them (i.e. twitch prime)?

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3 hours ago, Dejo93 said:

Good. It's a bullshit way of fucking over consumers. Hope this incentivises developers to actually make good games and not hide content behind a pay wall

*cough*God of War*cough*

Kinda curious, in what context are you mentioning God of War here?

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Boxes immediately ruined Knights of the Old Republic. How poeple still put them in games after that game with so much potential I just don't understand. And all card games that use random packs that can be purchased are gambling games. Magic included. Not sure why they aren't recognized as much when it's so clear.

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There have been bags of random sweets available for many years, and far more accessible.
They are just as much gambling as lootboxes in games.

Rowntrees even have one called "Randoms", because it is a random selection.

What about Kinder eggs.
These laws are based on a definition that only applies when it suits.

Traditional gambling does not guarantee any minimum result.

If you fail, you gain nothing.

A lootbox has a minimum result.

And that what you are paying for.

And Morcalivan there raised a very good example of physical card games with the same principles.

Edited by ByteMyAscii

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Hearthstone shoulda be pointed as gambling more than Overwatch were like 90% of packs contain the minimum value and can make people spend ridicolous money to even drop a legendary. That game is clearly made that way since it's free to play and wants you to spend money on it not like Overwatch were nobody cares of what boxes drop since are just cosmetic not tradable that have no impact of sort.

I will also add that getting boxes on OW is much easier than get a single pack in hearthstone, in OW you can just lose games and get them anyway, who will ever spend money on them like they were slot machines?

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Overwatch being targeted surprises me since it's probably one of the least offenders because every item is entirely cosmetic. Many games (like hearthstone that someone mentioned) rely on the "loot boxes" for core game mechanics and progression.

It's an awful system, and it's always been an awful system. I personally have never spent money on a "free to play" game using micro transactions but those of us doing that thinking it would slow down without support ended up being wrong. Thankfully regulation is finally stepping in. Who knows what this will actually bring, but I'm curious to see the fall out.

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4 hours ago, Yridaa said:

What if said loot boxes are obtainable with in-game currency, such as Card Packs for Gold? But then what if Gold can also be bought with real money?

Direct purchase of in-game goods was illegal already. What they deemed illegal now is the indirect purchase, where you first buy some in-game coins and then use that to buy a loot box containing random items.
$ -> loot-box: Was always considered gambling.
$ -> in-game currency -> loot-box: That's what they ruled gambling now.
I'm not sure if that affects WoW-Token though, since the prices are fixed there, there's no RNG mechanism involved (price volatility should not be considered illegal).

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1 hour ago, MurkyFelix said:

Kinda curious, in what context are you mentioning God of War here?

When you’re a single player game with no multiplayer, no microtransactions, no loot boxes, have a long engrossing “campaign mode”, enriching character development, literally everything big AAA publishers have warned about since getting too big for their boots, but are so successful both critically and commercially, have no backlash before the game is even on store shelves and is considered infinitely better than the games the AAA developers have been churning out.

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Blizzard already has a business model to deal with loot boxes (when linked to gambling) implemented in China, where you buy credits and loot boxes come as a bonus.

If loot boxes as a whole are declared illegal, players from Belgium would sooner lose access to cosmetic items over the whole system being scrapped.

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1 hour ago, Loreman said:

Just make the games 18+ only.

That'd never work, a ridiculously large portion of game customers are under age. Big hollywood movies bend over backwards to get that PG13 rating so as many people as possible can watch it, you can bet your ass games would be the same way. They'll scrap loot boxes entirely looong before they even consider reducing their audience.

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1 hour ago, Myke said:

Well then they may as well rule Collectable Card Games illegal, as they operate in the same way.

You joke but that's been suggested more than a few times in EU countries. MTG has to be incredibly careful when they host their events in certain nations because of local laws about gambling, changing the prizes at the start.

For the most part politicians really don't care about video games and other 'nerd' things except when it can get them votes and/or when the voters are bitching about something. Loot boxes became such a big annoyance and 'loud' enough for them to notice, now the pollies are waking up and looking at what they can gain from it.

If the video game companies wont regulate themselves, the governments will step in and no-one will be happy.

Personally I think Blizzard is one of the least offensive of the offenders, but some other companies have done things that are truly disgusting and it's splashing over the entire industry unfortunately.

1 hour ago, Rogue said:

Blizzard already has a business model to deal with loot boxes (when linked to gambling) implemented in China, where you buy credits and loot boxes come as a bonus.

If loot boxes as a whole are declared illegal, players from Belgium would sooner lose access to cosmetic items over the whole system being scrapped.

China may have swallowed that 'work around' but I doubt an EU country would look fondly at something so blatant.

For those not in the know China introduced laws about random products, Blizzard quickly introduced 'buy dust, get random cards' packs. Exactly the same as normal card packs in that you get the cards you would have gotten previously except you are 'buying' the dust to craft your cards... in theory. The amount of dust you actually get it is so piddling that you can't even craft anything with it. Last I checked it was 1 dust per pack, and a common costs 40 dust to craft.

It's incredibly obvious what they are doing and I'm honestly shocked they get away with it.

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I’m mixed on the concept of loot boxes.

I think the way HOTS does it is extremely fair.  You may win a character, you may win a mount, announcer, skin, voice line.  You get one every level or doing a weekly brawl.  In other words, you can get a fair amount for it not to be a huge deal.

You can also buy those items with multiple in game currencies that don’t require money.

If there are games where items ONLY come in a loot box that can shift the strength of your character or characters that you can only get in a loot box that change the outcome of a game, that’s gambling.

Bottom line is gamers know which games loot boxes are fair/ethical and which are not.  Government bodies will never know the difference and will treat them all the same.

Personally I’m of the mindset to ban them and make things a tiered purchase system when you know what you’re going to get at a fixed price.  Sure, you may spend $400 on a single game to buy everything.  However it’s far more moral than spending $1,500 and never getting what you want and feeling the gambling need to spend another $1,000 to satisfy the urge.

Last but not least the easiest way to send loot boxes, IAP’s and the like to the grave is don’t download them, don’t play them and don’t make a purchase after doing so.  

Edited by Misuteri

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I don't think Blizzard will have to change the lootboxes soon, at least in the Netherlands.

For now, the Dutch law is only looking at games where the content of the lootbox have some form of economical value. For now the study conducted by the ministry is only targeting the games that have an online "market" where players can sell/trade the content of their loot boxes.

Although some parties have been crying for a complete ban on games containing lootboxes, i don't think we'll have to worry. Years ago, when the pokemon cards (or any other card game for the matter) became popular, there were people complaining about the supossed gambling risk for the younger adience. Yet the cards were never banned or changed.

Edited by ValkyrieFreya

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6 hours ago, ByteMyAscii said:

There have been bags of random sweets available for many years, and far more accessible.
They are just as much gambling as lootboxes in games.

Rowntrees even have one called "Randoms", because it is a random selection.

What about Kinder eggs.
These laws are based on a definition that only applies when it suits.

Traditional gambling does not guarantee any minimum result.

If you fail, you gain nothing.

A lootbox has a minimum result.

And that what you are paying for.

And Morcalivan there raised a very good example of physical card games with the same principles.

There are a few flaws with this: bags of random sweets, you still are getting a physical item that isn't subject to being taken away from you if the provider deems fit. There's also no sense of any candy being worth more than another.

Kinder eggs, you aren't paying for a random loot box toy, you're buying chocolate and getting a bonus, like the prize in a box of cereal when they did that.

Adding a "for sure payout" doesn't make it not gambling. if a casino gave you 1 penny every time you pull a 25c slot, it's still gambling. What you're paying for in a loot box is the HOPE to get something good. Not only do the items not have a real world value in a loot box, the perceived value isn't a 100% return on investment. getting 4 sprays isn't going to feel worth it.

Finally for physical card games, there have been a LOT of debates if they would be considered gambling. The issue is once again you get a PHYSICAL product with real world value. You can trade in that mythic you just pulled from a MTG pack for something you actually want, or trade it. When you get a skin/spray/anything you are stuck with it. If you got something you don't want, bad news, you just lost the roll.

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6 hours ago, ByteMyAscii said:

There have been bags of random sweets available for many years, and far more accessible.
They are just as much gambling as lootboxes in games.

Rowntrees even have one called "Randoms", because it is a random selection.

What about Kinder eggs.
These laws are based on a definition that only applies when it suits.

Traditional gambling does not guarantee any minimum result.

If you fail, you gain nothing.

A lootbox has a minimum result.

And that what you are paying for.

And Morcalivan there raised a very good example of physical card games with the same principles.

Wuha, Blizzard just registered an account :D

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