Belgian Gaming Commission Decides Battlefront II-Style Loot Boxes Are Gambling, Wants Them Banned

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

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.

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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.

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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.

[PC Gamer]

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DISCUSSION

crbrennan
Spaceknight

I still don’t quite get the cart and horse here.

The game has a random progression system. That sucks. You can’t get the items you want without pure luck of the RNG. You can “level up” and feel you got nothing because you get duplicates, or only lowest level cards.

That’s a dumb design in a game like this. (It’s a design better suited to loot-based games like Diablo or Destiny.)

That’s also not new. Super Mario 3 is a great example of a random slot machine in a game.

Is that alone gambling?

Then they took that stupid design and said you can pay cash for more. That’s... well Battlefront 1 did that, you could pay cash for credits to buy things in its better-designed tech tree. So microtransactions seem like a strange thing to suddenly harp on here.

On the one hand I feel the anger is sort of misplaced. Let’s back up and talk about the lack of a proper upgrade “store” in game and the decision to make it crate-based - with or without cash involved. On the other hand, maybe the loot crate design was headed for a backlash without much rational focus to it and it took something as commonly known as Star Wars to trip it. I’m cool with that, too.