The immense loot box controversy sparked by Star Wars: Battlefront II last year has already made ripples throughout the gaming industry. After investigations were launched overseas regarding the potential definition of loot box systems as “gambling,” companies and regulators across the board began to react. Companies like Apple now require apps to publish drop rates for any loot box mechanics—visible in this week’s controversial “fortune cookie” update for Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, for example. Bodies like the Hawaiian state legislature have sought to make this practice of disclosure into a law, and also aim to limit the sale of titles with these mechanics to minors. Games now wear the lack of loot boxes as a badge of pride. And today, these mechanics were struck another blow, this time in the Netherlands.
In a recent ruling, the Dutch Gaming Authority has cited several games’ loot box systems as violating the country’s gambling rules. Publishers found to be in violation of these regulations will be given eight weeks to adjust their microtransaction systems accordingly or face punishment in the form of fines or the prohibition of their game’s sales.
The specific argument for certain games being in violation comes down to the ability to transfer prizes won from loot boxes. “Because the prizes can be traded, they get an economic value,” the DGA explain. “Players can earn money if they get a rare item. As a result, the games violate the rules of chance.” Named in the article as applicable titles include FIFA 18, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, DotA 2, and Rocket League.
While not every game examined by the DGA was found to be noncompliant with gambling laws, that did not stop the group from admonishing them. “Nevertheless, the Gaming Authority also criticizes these games,” their statement reads. “Opening the virtual boxes is very similar to gambling with a slot machine or roulette.”
That loot box systems encourage behavior even related to gambling seems to be one of the most major points of contention for the regulators, especially as it relates to children. “Young people in particular would be particularly vulnerable because their brains are still developing,” the DGA assert. “They could later become gambling addicts sooner. Game makers do nothing to protect young people against themselves.”
The Netherlands aren’t the only European country currently investigating these matters either. According to Marja Appelman, the director of the Gaming Authority, “This is the subject that gambling authorities across Europe are talking about. From Scandinavia, Germany, to Great Britain.”
Microtransactions have completely reshaped the way that game developers conduct business, and with an estimated 24 billion euro generated in the last year—$4 billion USD for Blizzard alone in 2017—it’s hard to blame them for being interested. Like it or not, in-game purchases are likely here to stay, and it’s up to regulatory bodies throughout the video game playing world to protect their consumers from these behaviors.