Three of the biggest firms in the industry could face criminal charges after the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) found that certain loot boxes violate national laws.
Following a five-month investigation into Star Wars Battlefront II, FIFA 18, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the BGC found that only Battlefront II did not directly contravene Belgian gambling legislation.
BGC director Peter Naessens noted that players of these games are "tempted and misled", and that none of the protective measures for gambling have been applied.
"Now that it is clear that children and vulnerable people in particular are exposed to them unprotected, game manufacturers but also parties such as FIFA, for example, are called upon to call a halt to this practice," he said.
Minister of justice Koen Geens, who commission the investigation following the fallout over the Battlefront II loot box controversy last year, said in a statement today that mixing games and gambling is "dangerous for mental health".
"We have already taken numerous measures to protect both minors and adults against the influence of, among other things, gambling advertising," he added. "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. "
Violation of gambling law is a criminal offence and Electronic Arts, Valve, and Activision Blizzard could each face a €800,000 fine if the offending loot boxes are not removed. There is also scope for a five-year prison sentence but, these punishments can be doubled when minors are involved.
However, unlike the recent decision from the Netherlands Gaming Authority, there is no hard deadline on when the game operators must comply with the law.
"We decided to first go have meetings with the sector, then we are going to look into what they have to do. There is no timing on things for the moment," a spokesperson for justice minister Geens told GamesIndustry.biz.
Electronic Arts, whose game FIFA 18 is in violation of the law, said that the BGC has not been in contact or directly shared its report findings. The publisher added that it would "welcome the dialogue with minister Geens" and denied that any of its games could be considered gambling.
"We strongly believe that our games are developed and implemented ethically and lawfully around the world, and take these responsibilities very seriously," a spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz.
"We care deeply that our players are having a fun and fair experience in all of our games, and take great care to ensure each game is marketed responsibly, including in compliance with regional ratings standards."
As with last week's Netherlands' decision, only certain loot boxes are technically illegal. Belgian law considers four factors when deciding whether something constitutes gambling: there must be a game element, there is some form of betting, that betting can lead to profit or loss, and chance plays a role.
In a conversation with GamesIndustry.biz, Flemish Games Association spokesman David Verbruggen said the trade body did not have an official comment as of yet, but would be looking into the report further.
"We are not against talking about regulation," he said. "If things get out of hand, we have to take care of this because it's in the best interests of our industry.
"We have been trying to reach out to [the BGC] for months. We just got the report and want to review it internally. We are going to talk with them and are happy with the invitation."
The Interactive Software Federation of Europe took a similar stance in a statement issued to GamesIndustry.biz, saying that it would not comment further until seeing the report itself.
"ISFE and our Belgian trade association, BEA, have been active over the past few months requesting a meeting with the Belgian authorities," said the organisation. "As such, we welcome the statement by minister Geens seeking a dialogue with stakeholders".
GamesIndustry.biz has also reached out to the BGC and is awaiting a response.