‘Loot Boxes’ Become Problem For Vid Games

Belgium and the Netherlands are launching investigations into “loot boxes” within video games. The boxes can maintain multiple virtual items and they are being sold and traded, much as skins are in certain titles.

The issue of gambling within online communities of virtual items found in popular video games has resurfaced with a new name—loot boxes.

Regulators in Belgium and the Netherlands are launching separate investigations into the loot boxes.

Skins betting—the gambling of virtual items such as bonus weapons in video games—has already caused controversy as the items are being traded, and often gambled, for real money. Loot boxes are virtual caches of several such items and extra game features, though exactly what they contain is usually a mystery until purchased. Many recent online games offer loot boxes for sale for either virtual currency or real money. In many games, real money can also be converted into virtual currency.

Since some loot boxes have more valuable items than others, some critics argue that just purchasing or trading them constitutes a type of gambling. Since they can be bought with real money, the gamble is on whether the box contains highly valued virtual items.

However, gaming companies such as Game developer EA argue that since all loot boxes sold in games contain some items of value, buying them cannot be considered gambling. Loot boxes, also called crates, are said to be no different than the for-pay rewards and extras available on social games.

The Dutch Gambling Authority is launching a full investigation into loot box games, and whether they should fall under gambling laws. The Belgian Gambling Commission has issued its own statement saying that it will look into the law surrounding video game reward boxes.

“Games of chance cannot be compared to any other kind of economic services,” the Belgian Commission said in a press release. “A number of protective measures have been implemented to protect players against these sorts of potential risks.”

Though the Belgian investigation is not complete, the country’s minister of justice Koen Geens is already saying that he will try to ban loot boxes completely, according to a report from the news website VTM.

“Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child,” Geens said in a press statement.

The issue of loot boxes has also been amplified by their use in the recently released Star Wars Battlefront II from EA. The boxes are used as part of an in-game prize system. The Blizzard game Overwatch has also drawn attention for using the boxes.

“Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling,” an EA spokesman told Gamespot Magazine. “A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game.”

There has been a call in the online gaming community, however, for game developers to the odds of receiving high value items in purchased loot boxes.

EA and Disney—which owns the rights to Star Wars—have stepped in and removed features that allow players to purchase the games in-game virtual currency for real money in the Star Wars game, but EA has said it plans to re-introduce real money purchases at a later date.

“We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game,” EA Digital Illusions CE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson said in a press statement. “We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases.”

According to reports, EA stock dipped after the announcement and some investors pulled out of the game after the real-money purchases were removed.