It has been almost a year since the insulting, expensive microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 started a backlash against loot crates in games. Electronic Arts was behind the Star Wars loot crates, so it may not come as a surprise that it has been hesitant to remove loot crates from games in Belgium, which decided earlier this year that the randomized loot crate mechanics in games from EA and other publishers constituted illegal gambling. Now, that decision may be headed for court.
The Belgian gaming commission was quick to decry the loot crate mechanisms highlighted by the Battlefront 2 controversy. In April of this year, the country decided that loot boxes that return random rewards in exchange for money count as gambling, and are therefore illegal in Belgium. The Netherlands followed shortly thereafter. Game publishers like Blizzard and 2K pulled the offending microtransactions from their games in the country, but EA seems determined to test the ban.
The firestorm of criticism over loot crates in Battlefront 2 led EA to remove them from the game, but the publisher’s FIFA titles still use loot crates. The loot crates are live everywhere, even in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Belgium, the gaming commission has reportedly referred the EA matter to the country’s public prosecutor’s office, which is investigating if EA has broken the law by leaving loot boxes in FIFA.
EA’s FIFA games sell players card packs, and those packs contain players of various skill levels. EA recently decided to disclose the odds of getting the best cards in these packs, and it uses this as part of its argument for keeping loot box mechanics. EA CFO Andrew Wilson also asserted earlier this year that loot boxes aren’t gambling because it doesn’t offer players any way to sell or cash out their cards for real money. It sure does feel like gambling, though, with some players spending thousands of dollars in pursuit of the ultimate team.
A legal case in Belgium may be exactly what EA wants. If the public prosecutor decides to bring a case, EA will have the chance to go before a judge and argue that loot boxes are not gambling. A favorable ruling could help EA justify the use of microtransactions in future games.
While Belgium is leading the way in fighting loot crates, some other countries have gone in the opposite direction. The US and New Zealand decided loot crates don’t count as gambling, but some US states have started investigations. No legislation has come of it, though.
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