EA is reportedly under criminal investigation in Belgium after authorities deemed the loot boxes in its FIFA games to be a form of gambling.
Loot boxes, sometimes called loot crates, are virtual items you can earn with in-game tasks or buy with real money. These grant you with a random selection of one or more perks to enhance the gaming experience or make you stronger in the game. The feature was introduced in video games back in the early 2000s as a means for game publishers to monetise their creations in the free-to-play business model.
In April, the Belgian Gaming Commission looked at four huge titles – Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – and found that except for Battlefront, all of them were in violation of the country’s gambling legislation.
We all know EA stripped loot boxes from Battlefront after the huge controversy following the game’s release, but that’s a whole different story.
The perks contained in loot boxes are almost always random – at purchase, players don’t know exactly which items a box may contain – and as such, the Belgian government considers them a game of chance subject to the country’s gambling laws.
There’s also a concern from Belgian authorities that this monetisation model could influence addictive behaviour in minors. Koen Geens, the Belgian Minister of Justice, deemed loot boxes illegal and demanded they be removed from FIFA 18, Overwatch and CS:GO or “risk a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 800,000 euros [some A$1,300,000]”.
However, an alternative was offered by the Belgian Gaming Commission, which suggested companies could include a gambling warning label on loot boxes, informing players of the odds of winning.
After the ruling, both Geens and EA expressed willingness to discuss a resolution, although the game company insists they don’t consider their product as any form of gambling.
“We strongly believe that our games are developed and implemented ethically and lawfully around the world, and take these responsibilities very seriously,” EA said in an official statement at the time.
“We welcome the dialogue with Minister Geens on these topics, as we do not agree that our games can be considered as any form of gambling.”
Following the decision, Blizzard, Valve, and 2K Games all disabled loot boxes for their products in the Belgian market – EA was the only one to stubbornly refuse.
As a result, the company is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Brussels public prosecutor’s office. If the official entity finds merit, they will end up taking the company to court.