Video Games and Gambling

Kai Huang - 2A Computer Engineering
Posted on: September 26, 2018

In April of this year, the Belgian Gaming Commission took a thorough look into the implementation of “loot boxes”, specifically those in  EA’s FIFA, Blizzard’s Overwatch, and Valve’s CS:GO. Their conclusion was that as the loot boxes were essentially a game of chance that required real money to play, it would be subject to Belgian gambling law. A statement from Belgium’s Justice Minister was put out on the 25th of April officially outlawing loot boxes in video games, warning the publishers of a prison sentence of up to five years as well as a fine of up to €800,000.

In July, Valve pushed a patch that locked all loot boxes for CS:GO players located in Belgium. In August, Blizzard followed suit, disabling loot boxes in Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm, though they mentioned in a press release that they did not agree with the Belgian opinion. Unlike the other two, EA has refused to comply and as of the 22nd of September, loot boxes are still present in FIFA 18.

EA has had a long history of controversy when it comes to in-game purchases. Star Wars: Battlefront II made a name for itself when severe outrage regarding the pay-to-win nature of the game forced EA to eventually remove all loot boxes from it altogether. However, EA has made statements claiming they do not believe the loot boxes in their FIFA games can be considered as gambling and even suggesting that the loot boxes are designed with the players’ interests in mind.

Their argument comes from 2 major points. Firstly, EA claims that the players will always receive a specific number of items in each loot box they purchase, though the items are still randomized and may not be of equal value. Secondly, EA argues that as none of the virtual items can be cashed out for real-world currency, the gambling regulation is not valid.

The Belgian Gaming Commission, in response to this, has recently requested a criminal investigation by the Brussels public prosecutor’s office into EA’s refusal to remove the loot boxes from FIFA18, as well as their open statement that they would continue to push for loot boxes in their next game: FIFA19.  The commission has also stated that even if EA is found to be innocent under the judge, they would immediately advocate revising gambling laws to tackle the problem.

EA has long focused on loot boxes as a core component in their business strategy. It was revealed last year by their CFO Blake Jorgensen that the loot box model in FIFA had made them $800 million in net revenue. It is unlikely that they would easily back down from this situation.

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