Sections

Star Wars Battlefront loot boxes investigation continues, say Belgian authorities

Hawaii also considers legislation against "Star Wars-themed online casino"

Update: There may be some confusion in the air due to foreign translation. While everyone in the media has cited a VTM News report, now RTBF claims that the Belgian Gambling Commission has not in fact declared loot boxes to be gambling. While the Belgian Gambling Commission has made comments that it would like to ban loot boxes, the investigation is still in progress. We'll keep an eye on this and be sure to update you.

Original story...

The Belgian Gambling Commission has decided that loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II constitute gambling, and the practice should be banned.

Last week the gambling authority turned its eye towards the issue and since concluded that loot boxes present a danger to children.

VTM News reported that Belgian minister of justice Koen Geens said the gambling commission will take the matter to Europe.

The Dutch authorities joined the recent investigation too, and while a decision has yet to be reached, arriving at the same conclusion as Belgium doesn't seem unlikely.

Accompanying the news was an announcement that Hawaiian legislators are also considering action against loot boxes in games.

At a press conference, Hawaiian democratic state representative Chris Lee described Battlefront II as a "Star Wars-themed online casino," warning that it was a "trap" for children.

"We're looking at legislation this coming year which could prohibit access, or prohibit sale of these games to folks who are under age in order to protect families, as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms within those games," he said.

"We've been talking with several other states as well, with legislators there who are looking at the same thing. I think this is the appropriate time to make sure that these issues are addressed before this becomes the new norm for every game."

At the same press conference, fellow representative Sean Quinlan draw comparison to '80s and '90s cigarette mascot Joe Camel.

"We didn't allow Joe Camel to encourage our kids to smoke cigarettes, and we shouldn't allow Star Wars to encourage our kids to gamble," he said.

Writing recently for GamesIndustry.biz, Rob Fahey warned against interference from legislators if publishers overstepped the mark with loot boxes.

"There's a real chance that companies involved in this are on the hook for permitting minors access to a gambling platform," he suggested.

"If the games business doesn't figure out where the sensible limits to this kind of business model lie, they risk a public outcry leading to regulators stepping in."

Avoiding a moral panic has never been a strength of games, but with politicians across the world diving into the fray, the industry could find itself facing another assault from the mainstream media and outside pundits.

Related stories

EA suspends microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II hours before game launch

"Sorry we didn't get this right," says DICE general manager

By Haydn Taylor

Belgian Gambling Commission targets EA and Blizzard over loot boxes

"The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling," says EA

By Haydn Taylor

Latest comments (15)

Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch26 days ago
Selling children random payouts has existed in the world of toys for decades, why are we only just talking about its legality now?

Where were all the complaints about the Pokemon Trading Card Game? Magic the Gathering? Panini Sticker Albums? Blind boxes and more? Why are videogames a special case?
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive26 days ago
Ian, I think the main difference with the examples you cite is the digital nature of those transactions, and consequently their accessibility. There's also a difference between buying $1000's worth online in a comparatively very short time, whereas no one goes to Walmart to fill up a whole cart of Magic boxes at once.

Loot boxes and gacha are not necessarily evil practices, but not many games properly implement them to create a fun and fair experience for everyone. Personally I never buy them for these reasons, but they've been implemented in many of the games I've worked on over the years.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch26 days ago
@Hugo, if it's an issue of selling unknown chance to children then all products must be considered equally, that's how the law must work. In terms of people buying $1,000 of loot boxes - only people that can afford to do that can do it. There aren't children walking around with access to thousands of dollars of disposable income unless a parent has given that. In those cases, after previous legal battles, devs will generally give refunds.

In terms of how big a problem loot boxes are - where is the evidence of harm? It seems like this is coming up not because of evidence of a problem, if that were the case the things I just mentioned would already be banned. The state really should provide evidence of harm before doing anything.

It seems like this issue has come forward because of consumer complaints, which is fine, as the people have a right to have the legality of business practices debated. What might happen is they get what they want, no more MTG, no more Pokemon cards, no more Hearthstone. What's more likely to happen, in my opinion, is that games will need to put in age restrictions for loot boxes and will need to disclose their drop rates in some way.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (15)
Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive26 days ago
Agreed that all products should be considered equally. I just think that the "problem" has become more obvious or more noticed. When we were kids we had to wait a whole week to get our allowances that would let us get a couple Panini packs, and then we'd negotiate trades with friends to complete our sets.

Gacha typically doesn't work that way. It relies on spontaneous purchases and instant gratification. Not all games let you trade what you get and they'll in fact find ways to make you need additional copies so you can fuse/merge/upgrade.

Disclosing drop rates sounds very a reasonable to me from a consumer point of view but it can only discourage some players once they realize they have 0.3% chance of getting what they need (so it's not good from the business point of view).

Also guaranteeing certain qualities such as "this pack contains at least 1 Epic card and 2 Gold cards" is a good practice. You don't know which ones you are getting but at least you know you're getting something valuable.

Age is only one part of the problem. Gambling as a whole is not just an issue for children and there's a reason why it is supervised for adults as well.
In terms of people buying $1,000 of loot boxes - only people that can afford to do that can do it.
Unfortunately, that is definitely not the case.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch26 days ago
The vast majority of 'whales' in free-to-play games are just rich people or well off enough to spend disposable income on these games.

It would be exceptionally small amount of people who spend thousands of dollars can't 'afford' it I've not heard about bankruptcy courts blocked up with people struggling to pay off virtual goods debts. If player couldn't afford to spend then these games wouldn't have a sustainable business and yet, they do. Now I'm not ruling out that problem cases exist, it's just not as big a problem as so many other things. And in terms of affordability games aren't too bad, numerous industries even go so far as to sell you finance for goods that they know you don't have the money for; cars, sofas, TVs etc. I think in relation to that there's very little evidence that f2p causes widespread spending problems.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 26 days ago
If player couldn't afford to spend then these games wouldn't have a sustainable business and yet, they do.
Judging from the quarterly reports of EA, Activision and others, their games were sustainable business long before further monetization was added. Go ahead, read them. Both companies make billions of profits, but they do not make billions off microtransactions; go figure. It is not a necessity to have loot boxes, for EA it is merely the icing on the cake.

Ironically, an institutionalized loot box ban might be in the best interest of EA. It will definitely weed out the market and companies with existing IP and big licenses will be able to leverage them even better. I said the big publishers do not need additional monetization, the smaller ones definitely do. If EA can push them from existence by a redefinition of gambling, then that is what they will do.

The normalization of gambling is in full swing. Even a loot game such as Destiny does not just drop loot. It also drops a lot of currency tokens, you then spend at various NPC you could also call slot machines. Destiny may not be the big offender when it comes to asking for your cash, it is admirable straight forward in that department, but at the same time, an undercurrent of slot machine mechanics is definitely there. Just because a psychologist might have said delayed gratification offers more joy, therefore we need a Cryptarch and 20 token merchants, does not mean it is less asinine.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jamie Hughes Senior Sound Designer 25 days ago
@Ian Griffiths: There is a difference between loot boxes and the Panini stickers example you gave. Once you own a stack of cards/stickers, you can trade them with your friends to get the ones you don't have. As far as I can tell, if you buy a loot box full of stuff you don't want or need, that's it, money down the drain. Also, being physical items, you could make the stickers into a nice collage or piece of artwork :p
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tiago Marinheiro Physics Graduate, Newcastle University25 days ago
The apologists of the loot boxes and the excuses they come up with make up for a good read, comparing it to TCG or even Panini...
A type of game which has always been about developing skill and unlocking new weapons/abilities trough playing all of a sudden demands money, but somehow this is similar to MtG or panini stickers...
Also how come we always hear about the decline in physical sales as an excuse for loot boxes, and less than enticing digital sales yet there isn't a figure in sight, and everybody assumes it doesn't make up for the lost profit in retail. Are there any figures to back such a claim?
Why couldn't they just stay cosmetic? The mobile market belongs to mobile.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard Browne Partner & Head of Interactive, Many Rivers Productions25 days ago
Loot boxes are valid comparisons to Panini ; you spend money to get a random bunch of things with no knowledge of exactly what's inside. The upside of Panini stickers is that if you have friends you can trade them. That's the only place it falls down. But if the argument is gambling then both supply the same fix to the consumer.

That's a different argument to implementing loot boxes in a skill environment where you're effectively now asked to pay to win the game, or certainly cajoled to. Totally different point.

Physical sales decline isn't the issue, it's post launch support and games as a service. You want a team of developers working on a game for two years after launch you have to find a way to pay them. Many titles use DLC, Battlefront 1 did. EA/DICE opted for the more open IAP route with BF2 and its bitten them heavily on the backside.

I don't think cosmetic upgrade purchases work in something as iconic as SW ; if I want Darth Vader I want Darth Vader, not Darth with a pink bow in his hair.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard Browne Partner & Head of Interactive, Many Rivers Productions25 days ago
Loot boxes are valid comparisons to Panini ; you spend money to get a random bunch of things with no knowledge of exactly what's inside. The upside of Panini stickers is that if you have friends you can trade them. That's the only place it falls down. But if the argument is gambling then both supply the same fix to the consumer.

That's a different argument to implementing loot boxes in a skill environment where you're effectively now asked to pay to win the game, or certainly cajoled to. Totally different point.

Physical sales decline isn't the issue, it's post launch support and games as a service. You want a team of developers working on a game for two years after launch you have to find a way to pay them. Many titles use DLC, Battlefront 1 did. EA/DICE opted for the more open IAP route with BF2 and its bitten them heavily on the backside.

I don't think cosmetic upgrade purchases work in something as iconic as SW ; if I want Darth Vader I want Darth Vader, not Darth with a pink bow in his hair.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tiago Marinheiro Physics Graduate, Newcastle University24 days ago
Loot boxes are valid comparisons to Panini ; you spend money to get a random bunch of things with no knowledge of exactly what's inside.
That is a very thinly constructed analogy. Running and cycling get you from point a to b , because there is movement, yet they are different things.
I am talking about Lootboxes in general -how they should remain cosmetic. If it is a possibility apply it, if not revert back to DLC.
How big a team is required to maintain post launch support? is it not financially viable with DLC alone? Why not take that into account in the original budgeting of the game?
I mean is it truly necessary at this stage with the social media explosion to spend the same amount of money in developing a game as it is promoting it? Can the budget for advertising not be reduced?
Glad to hear somebody who doesn't blame declining physical sales though. It is always the same uniform response from the higher ups in the industry, it is as if there is a lootbox cabala and everybody shares the same PR guidelines....
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch19 days ago
@Jamie Hughes: late to this but there's nothign stopping games from making items tradable. Also, there's nothing requiring people to trade with you so it's a moot point.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch19 days ago
@Tiago Marinheiro: How is it different to Magic the Gathering? You can buy better cards than another player.

These games don't demand that you spend money, you can get all the things by playing. Also, these games have always thrown people with different gear in together, whether you play Battlefield, COD or Battlefront you will be dropped into an arena with people with better gear than you - that's the game. Competition here isn't as important as in a game like Chess because they don't hold strong symmetric competitive mechanics.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch19 days ago
@Tiago Marinheiro: Why do loot boxes need to only have cosmetic items in? As long as a player can't buy an actual advantage over someone who grinds I don't see the problem.

IF players reject it and the game doesn't do well then that's the market saying they don't want it. It's a self-resolving problem.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Griffiths Game Director, Hutch19 days ago
@Tiago Marinheiro: Why do loot boxes need to only have cosmetic items in? As long as a player can't buy an actual advantage over someone who grinds I don't see the problem.

IF players reject it and the game doesn't do well then that's the market saying they don't want it. It's a self-resolving problem.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.