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Netherlands pushes for EU-wide loot box legislation

Loot box ruling from Dutch government body could set precedent in Europe against certain iterations of the mechanic

The Netherlands Gaming Authority (NGA) says it wants to "work together and act together" with other European nations to tackle the issue of loot boxes.

Following on from yesterday's ruling that certain iterations of the mechanic contravene national gambling legislation, the government body has begun trying to work with other EU member states on the matter.

"There is no question of harmonisation of regulations," the NGA told GamesIndustry.biz. "Every European regulator has its own laws and regulations. We now want to work together and act together."

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz Panji Oudsen, a spokesperson for industry trade body the Dutch Games Association, suggested the NGA would like to see EU-wide legislation across Europe, and that yesterday's ruling could help set a precedent.

"The possibility is there," he said. "As far as I can tell there are certain authorities such as Belgium that are doing their own studies right now and I know they are harder than us in this whole topic. They might have different findings but this ruling could certainly influence rulings that are due to come out.

"I do know that they are really pushing to the EU and trying to get in touch with all the different authorities in EU member states to get one blanket precedent so the whole EU has the same ruling."

Yesterday's report -- Study into loot boxes: A treasure or a burden? -- found that four out of the ten most popular games on an unnamed video streaming platform were in breach of the Betting and Gaming Act.

However, the NGA has yet to reveal which games were found to be in breach of the law.

"The names of the games will not be communicated at this time," said a spokesperson. "The NGA will enter into contact with the four game providers that have been found to violate the law.

"The NGA now wants to first clarify the market by promoting the standard. In the absence of behavioural change, the NGA can ultimately proceed to take enforcement measures."

Neither the Dutch Games Association nor the Dutch arm of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (NVPI) have been able to extract additional details on the ruling.

"We are currently in the process of evaluating the findings in the report," an NVPI spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz.

"We prefer not to comment until there is more clarity on which games and companies are concretely involved. We are hoping to get more details soon from the NGA about their investigation."

As far as the Dutch Games Association goes, Oudsen said the research was "vague" in some places and should have considered the distinction between first-party and third-party marketplaces.

"We are still studying [the report] and looking at what the full implications of what it might be, and waiting for the NGA to open up and discuss its findings," he said.

However, Oudsen noted that the NGA had taken a "middle ground" approach overall and that establishing the baseline was an important step in protecting people from gambling addiction.

"Technically they do have the authority and power to forbid the sale of the games which for them would be easier to do physical than digital, but I don't think that's something they are trying to get out of this," he said.

Instead, Oudsen believes the NGA is pushing the industry to bring itself in line with the law so it isn't forced to intervene.

"From what we can see the they are trying not to do a that because once they do that, they pull the whole games industry into the gambling industry.

"I really feel like they are trying to not overstep and take the whole industry with it, and focus on the gambling that happens."

Although the ruling was clear that loot boxes where the contents were not tradeable outside of the game are not illegal, the NGA noted that they presented "moderate to high addiction risk potential". The body's investigation also concluded that there may be "some connection" between loot boxes and development of addiction.

"Six of the ten loot boxes that were studied do not contravene the law," said the NGA spokesperson. "With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game. This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act.

"The Netherlands Gaming Authority therefore calls on providers of this type of loot box to remove the addiction-sensitive elements -- 'almost winning' effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike -- from the games and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless."

The four games found to be violating the law have until June 20 to make the requisite changes before the Gaming Authority considers taking further action.

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Latest comments (1)

The only thing that annoys me in all this are the double standards that once again target games. Loot boxes mechanic is identical to collectible cards (from baseball cards to MtG), countless toy lines and toy vending machines. Some of those have been around for more than a hundred years.
They are not even mentioned even now that games are one again demonized. Just like nudity and violence are somehow very bad if they are in games but OK to be for every kid to see in tv every day.
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