UPDATE: Since this story was published, new information has become available. There is some confusion regarding the translation from the original report in Dutch, but it appears that the Belgium Gambling Commission has NOT declared anything about Loot Crates yet. However, they are aware of the controversy and still investigating it further. This Reddit comment sums up the situation well:
Belgian [user] here. The fact that our Gambling Commission apparently has not finished their investigation yet DOES NOT change the fact that our Justice Minister Koen Geens has said during a TV interview, on his website, and on Twitter, that he wants these lootboxes banned.
What Geens has said is basically his personal opinion. Our Gambling Commission can only give advice, our government is not required to follow that advice. So if Geens wants to ban it, even if the commission says it’s not gambling, he can perfectly do that if he has the support from the rest of the government.
In addition, a senator from France has asked the country’s appropriate commission to look into the microtransastions and gambling nature of Star Wars: Battlefront II and similar games.
The original story follows below:
The release of Star Wars: Battlefront II has kicked up quite a controversy. It was revealed that many of the game’s features and unlockable characters were actually hidden in “loot crates,” a term for a digital goodie box that opens up and offers a random reward to gamers. In most games, these can be opened faster by paying real money or slower by grinding in-game currency.
Some games, like Overwatch or Rocket League, offer loot boxes with cosmetic items only. You can get a new character or weapon skin, or a different customization item for your favorite car. But none of those things have any affect on the competitive balance of playing the game. Battlefront II ignored those successful models and basically offered weapon and skill upgrades in their loot boxed, making the game a “pay to win” model.
After much outrage from the gaming community, publisher EA released a statement saying they were temporarily disabling the pay-to-win features of the game while they re-worked the system. But as our very own Nick Steinberg pointed out, that’s not really anything to celebrate.
The loudest critics of these kinds of systems accuse EA (and other gaming companies) of including “predatory mechanics” in their games, that prey on people susceptible to gambling addictions. Now some governments are starting to agree.
Last week, the Gaming Commission in Belgium (as in, gambling) announced they were investigating the loot crate system in Battlefront II. This week, they have decided it’s clearly a form of gambling and will push to make legislative changes to prevent this kind of entertainment from being sold — especially to underage children.
“Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child,” said Koen Geens, Belgium’s Minister of Justice.
In North America, the State of Hawaii is also taking a closer look at this controversial gaming practice.
Rep. Chris Lee, Democratic member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, gave a press conference in which he called out EA for their “predatory behavior.”
He even called Battlefront II a “Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money.”
Lee would later elaborate on his feelings in a Reddit post in their popular gaming subreddit:
These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.
Like anything that involves politicians and/or lawyers, nothing will change overnight. But if a handful of jurisdictions make an effort to curtail these kinds of gaming mechanics, it could definitely force the companies that make these games to think twice about how they try to milk further revenue out of their titles.
Whatever happened to just paying $60 for the latest Call of Duty and then forking over another $10 a couple months later for new maps? Ahhh, the good ol’ days.