Electronic Art’s Star Wars Battlefront II, one of the biggest video game titles of the year, debuted to disaster in recent weeks after both consumers and the gaming press revolted against the $60 game’s reliance on microtransaction-fueled, pay-to-win loot boxes. At launch, the title prevented players from accessing key features of the game like playing as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader without either grueling grinds or shelling out extra cash to help bypass its confusing internal economy.
Crucially, some elements of the system like loot box contents were randomized—meaning even players who chose to give EA more money could still walk away frustrated. Last week, the Belgian Gaming Commission reportedly launched an investigation into whether the system constituted a violation of gambling laws.
According to PC Gamer and VTM Nieuws, the commission’s decision is clear: It considers inserting randomized pay-to-win schemes into video games as equivalent to the “mixing of money and addiction” and thus a form of gambling like video slot machines. Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens added, “Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child.” He noted that Belgium would have to work through the European Union’s process to achieve a total ban.
This has potentially huge ramifications for the video game industry, which has seen some of its biggest players turn to milking players for micro-transaction revenue even after they’ve shelled out money for the original product. The Belgian ruling doesn’t address that issue directly—consumers would still be allowed to pay for specific bonuses or items—but it does suggest that the trend is starting to become abusive enough that regulators are setting limits to how far it can extend its grimy tentacles. It’s also likely to be particularly embarrassing for EA, which has already seen such an incredible backlash to Battlefront II’s model that it’s in the uncomfortable position of tanking a flagship Star Wars game in the middle of a rebooted franchise.
While gamers are notoriously rabid opponents of government infringement on the industry, it’s hard to see them sticking their nose up at this one.