Belgium orders Overwatch, CSGO, and FIFA 18 to remove lockboxes or face criminal penalties

Back in 2017, at the height of mainstream outrage over lockbox shenanigans, Belgium became one of the very first countries to take the problem seriously (instead of just passing the buck). The Belgian committee assigned to investigate concluded in November that “the mixing of money and addiction is gambling” and pledged to ban them.

Now, the country has effectively done just that. Its Gaming Commission spent several months investigating multiple games, ultimately finding that Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are operating in violation of its laws specifically because of their lockbox mechanics.

“To speak of a game of chance, the Gaming Commission uses four parameters. If there is a game element, a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game. In the case of FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, the Gaming Commission decides that the system of loot boxes forms 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. Although the system of loot boxes in the three other video games can be seen as a game of chance, there is always lack of 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.”

Consequently, the office of the Minister of Justice says in a press release, those three titles are subject to criminal law.

“The loot boxes must therefore also be removed,” the announcement says. “If that does not happen, the operators risk a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 800,000 euros. When minors are involved, those punishments can be doubled.”

Source: Press release, GIbiz, Eurogamer. Thanks again, Fabio!
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74 Comments on "Belgium orders Overwatch, CSGO, and FIFA 18 to remove lockboxes or face criminal penalties"

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sauldo
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sauldo

No, Belgium did not order Overwatch, CSGO, and FIFA 18 to remove lockboxes or face criminal penalties… yet. This is a gross misconception sadly relayed by the Eurogamer website’s article and clickbaity title.
Haydn Taylor’s sub-headline would be much more accurate: “Loot boxes in FIFA 18, Overwatch, and CS:GO violate gambling legislation, says Belgian Gaming Commission.”

The report from the Gambling Commission pointed out three unacceptable lootboxes systems out of four games with an extra focus on these marketing a gambling-like activity to minors, as well as having a gambling activity without the proper licenses and regulations.

More importantly, it should be noted that this is merely a report, not a law (yet), and is thus therefore not constraining. Therefore no, loot boxes are not, right now, illegal in Belgium.

The original article (in Dutch) points out that the Minister of Justice will try to reach out to the providers to establish responsibilites, what is to say that these aren’t even defined yet.

Not to say that this conclusion isn’t a victory in itself, but this is just the beginning of a long juridical venture and it is still too early to rejoice or to know how the providers will react.

Veldan
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Veldan

This is very nice. I hope there’s more to come, both in terms of other games being examined and other countries doing the same.

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Brother Maynard

Do it like Warframe, it’s not hard. Everything that can be bought with premium currency can be also earned in game (except loadout, warframe and weapon slots, but those can be gained through trading with other players and through mastery levels).

Also, every blueprint or component has a known drop chance (warframe wiki lists the actual percentages) and the prime components’ rarity is clearly indicated before you attempt any relic run.

It really isn’t difficult when the primary reason for your game’s existence is not greed…

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dinwitt

Are relics obtainable via real money? Do they contain items not available for purchase individually? As far as I can tell, if these two are true then Belgium will be banning Warframe as well when they get around to reviewing it. However I don’t play Warframe so I don’t actually know if that is the case.

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Brother Maynard

You obtain relics by doing regular missions – pretty much any mission drops them and there are specific locations that drop them almost exclusively. I have more than a hundred of them just by doing random missions and not really doing any active farming. I think you can also purchase them in the store, but I doubt many people do that – they’re such common drops it would be like buying sand on Sahara…

They contain components used to build weapons and warframes. None of these components can be purchased individually (you can trade them with other players, though – if you have duplicates, for instance) – you can only get these components from the relics.

There are also mechanics in place where you can increase the chance of the rare drops from these relics (like the Fragor Prime handle in the picture). This is all done with void traces (also in the picture), which are only obtainable in game and you usually get 10-20 as a minimum in void missions. You can’t buy them for cash. So people who are after the rare stuff usually upgrade their relic to the radiant quality, team up with 3 other people with the same relic / quality and that way your rare item has actually a very high chance of dropping. With this system, you can get any item in game fairly quickly.

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dinwitt

By many accounts, Overwatch is super generous with the number of loot boxes it gives out for free. The loot boxes even provide a unique currency that will eventually let you buy the item you are after if it isn’t dropping. But because there is an option to buy the boxes with money it is being targetted.

Warframe’s loot boxes sound wonderful. But this Belgian ruling is so broad that even something as generous and accepted by players as Warframe will fall under it.

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John Mynard

There’s some confusion there. Relics aren’t “loot boxes” in the context you are alluding. It’s more like adding 6 pieces of loot to the drop table and you are guaranteed to receive one of them. The Prime weapons that you get from relics are not obtainable any other way.

It’s a gameplay system, not a money-making endeavor. If you go watch the No-Clip documentary, DE_Sheldon actually admits, with more than a bit of disgust toward himself that an early iteration of the pet customization system cost actual money to do nothing more than randomizing the pet’s appearance. An iteration that was quickly pulled when they saw a transaction log that showed one guy had pushed the button over 200 times and they realized they had created a slot machine instead of a system for someone to have fun with.

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Aiun Tanks

I’m not sure it’ll make much difference. Whenever you pay actual money in Warframe, you generally get specifically what you want to buy and what you want to buy only. They USED to have a loot-box mechanic, but they disabled it when they realized people were pulling the lever like a poker machine. I have a feeling the only random thing left for premium currency would be the trash mod packs. And they wouldn’t lose much at all for tossing that out.

Everything else for drop chance is in-game drop chance that can’t be buffed with money. Basically… playing the game as the game. Same as Diablo or Borderlands, for example. The Belgian ruling isn’t against game mechanics of rolling the dice on loot in games, it’s against PAYING to roll the dice.

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Brother Maynard

Just to clarify that last bit about teaming up – in Warframe you can actually select a reward that dropped for any of your team mates and you will get a copy of that reward. So if you’re in a full team of 4, at the end of the mission you see a screen with all with all four players’ rewards and you can select any of them. If you don’t like what your personal relic dropped, no problem, choose a copy of one of your team mates’ rewards.

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Jack Pipsam

Heh, anything to knock Blizzard down a peg for popularising lootboxes is fine by me.

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Sally Bowls

So Overwatch is being threatened over their lootboxes but SWBF2 is not? Life may not always be fair.

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Schmidt.Capela

Because SWBF2 doesn’t have paid lootboxes anymore; they are now awarded for free, daily, for logging into the game, and can’t be purchased even if the player wants to. The only thing you can purchase with actual money is cash store currency, and can’t use that currency to purchase anything that has randomized content.

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Utakata

Ms. Bree has address this “double standard” somewhere down below…if you care to scroll down. :)

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dinwitt

From Google translate of the press release:

To speak of a game of chance, the Gaming Commission uses four parameters. If there is a game element , a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game.

What, exactly, is the profit condition or loss condition of loot boxes? There is a clear loss condition in gambling, when you receive less than you put in. But without a way to translate money out of a game, you always receive less money than you put into the loot box, so the typical gambling standards don’t apply. Without an objective way to determine if a loot box result is a win or loss, I don’t see how they meet the parameters.

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Brother Maynard

Viewing gambling strictly through monetary value is very simplistic. The Gaming Commission is obliged to operate with the legal definition, which focuses on money (I reckon most of the gambling regulation worldwide was written decades ago when virtual items were known only in sci-fi – if they were known at all).

But any type of gambling is based on human psychology and works with a simple risk-reward mechanic. The reward does not have to be monetary. Whatever has any kind of value to you can be used as a trigger in a game of chance.

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dinwitt

Philosophical musings on gambling are all well and good, but they set out four parameters that games must meet to be gambling, and I don’t see how loot boxes meet all four.

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Brother Maynard

Psychology != philosophy.

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dinwitt

If I wanted to discuss the psychology of gambling and the government’s moral imperative to save people from themselves, I would have mentioned it in the top level post. Instead I mentioned the four parameters and how I don’t believe loot boxes meet all of them. Do you want to address that point, or just keep scoring points with the echo chamber here?

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Brother Maynard

True, but I deliberately did not respond to that part. It’s your belief, I see no point in discussing it.

Just like you don’t believe loot boxes meet all the conditions, most people (not only here) and – more importantly in this case – the Gaming Commission do believe so…

What’s to discuss here? It’s you view of the matter, I’m not here to convert you to the righteous cause or something…

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dinwitt

If you didn’t think it was worth discussing, then why did you reply to my comment in the first place?

If it is so clear to the masses that loot boxes meet all four criteria, then it should be trivial to enlighten me.

Or it could be that most people aren’t reading into the ruling and are just happy someone is doing something about loot boxes, even if its logically inconsistent.

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Brother Maynard

It was simply a general remark on the psychological basis of the whole gambling system, which has actually very little to do with the monetary value of the reward, but rather with any kind of value people assign to something (e.g. in this case virtual items with no real world cash value may still be considered a powerful gambling trigger).

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Baemir

There definitely are ways to “translate money out of a game”. For example, when you open cases in CS:GO, 90% of the time you’re going to get skins that are worth far less (on the steam market) than what you paid for the key. That’s a loss. Easy.

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dinwitt

But for Overwatch? No trading and no marketplace.

DeadlyAccurate
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DeadlyAccurate

I guess they’ll just make it possible to straight up buy the skins then? At least for Belgians?

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dinwitt

More likely they’ll just stop selling those games in Belgium, and possibly prevent any Belgians from playing online. Retooling the systems to provide loot box contents without using a loot box would take months.

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TherecDaMage .

That’s what I assume will happen. 25€ per skin. Maybe jack it up to 40€ for legendary skins. It’ll be expensive but it follows the law.

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Schmidt.Capela

Unlikely, as that would reduce too much the number of players willing to spend money on skins, which in turn would reduce revenue from them a great deal.

Grave Knight
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Grave Knight

Yeah, that’s not happening. You know what will happen, they’ll just stop doing business in Belgium, blacklist the entire country, and keep on doing what they’re doing. One small country isn’t going to be enough to sway these corporations.

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Jack Pipsam

People have been saying that about Australia for years. Never happened. Sales worth too much and the PR fallback would be something they’d not be prepared for.

And let’s be honest here, Belgium, just the beginning of the legal ramifications against lootboxes.

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Axetwin .

Except Belgium is now the second country in the past week to do this, behind The Netherlands. The dominoes are falling, what are they going to do, black list the entire EU? I’d love to see them try.

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Schmidt.Capela

One small country that is nevertheless a member of the EU, which means it could potentially convince the EU to punish companies that decide to not do business in Belgium to avoid having to comply with its laws to such an extent that it would be cheaper to spend the necessary money to make a Belgium-specific version of the game. And that assuming Netherlands and Belgium can’t get other countries to also ban lootboxes, which is a possibility; people aware of the issue seem to overwhelmingly dislike lootboxes, and framing them as equivalent to gambling by making clear how they are explicitly designed to prey on the same psychological weaknesses that gambling does seems feasible.

The SWBF2 lootbox scheme was a figurative Pandora box; after opening it, I doubt things will return to how they previously were.

Richard de Leon III
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Richard de Leon III

Hopefully more countries will follow suit and the game industry will go back to just selling games without microtransations or MMOs sticking with a sub.

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Zora

Now to see what creative use of legal mechanics (it’s not an exploit!) will these companies enact to bypass the ruling without cutting into their current model.

Judging by how strict the court sounded one would assume there’s not too much room for wiggle but the kind of law firms our benevolent digital overlords have on their payroll might feel differently. This is going to make for quite the pleasant distraction, I say!

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Brother Maynard

Now to see what creative use of legal mechanics (it’s not an exploit!) will these companies

Well, it’s not too difficult to fix. Blizzard managed it with Warcraft or Starcraft – sell your games.

I know, in 2018 it will seem radical to many gaming companies, but I’m not afraid to propose groundbreaking solutions!

Worst case scenario? Bobby Kotick will have to settle for Gulfstream IV instead of Gulfstream V…

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Jeremy Barnes

I assume they’ll go with the popular “gift when you buy…” route

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Schmidt.Capela

I don’t think this would work in this case. The way I understand it, Belgium has framed it in such a way that if you pay money and as a direct consequence get a lootbox, it’s still considered purchasing a lootbox even if the lootbox was a “freebie”.