Loot Boxes have been the recent talk in Europe. The big question is, where is all this furious debate heading?
In this article, we’ll get in the middle of a heated argument. There seems to be that back and forth between EU countries, game publishers, and players.
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Will the European Union ban Loot Boxes? If yes, when? Let’s find out.
What are Loot Boxes and How do they Work?
Loot Boxes are video game features that you can access through gameplay. You may optionally pay for them with real-world money.
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These mystery boxes contain several items. However, you don’t choose the item you want. Since the boxes contain randomized items, you can’t know what will pop out until you open them.
The items in these boxes vary. They could be cosmetic items meant for game customization. These include new looks and skins for your avatar.
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Other items include weapons, maps, levels, and even in-game currencies. Such items help you advance quickly or compete better.
Notably, there are 3 ways to acquire Loot Boxes:
- Purchasing them
- Waiting for them to drop after or during the gaming session
- After completing rounds in a multiplayer match
- After unlocking another level in a special competition
Some people argue that Loot Boxes transform a video game from role-playing to “Pay to Win”. That is because it offers items that are superior to those in normal play.
Also, some players feel they’re paying for items that should be in the game. That’s why you’ll hear people call games with Loot Boxes “Pay to Play”.
Why Do Software Developers Include Loot Boxes in Games?
There are several reasons software providers incorporate loot boxes in games. The first is to keep the games engaging through novelty and variety.
The second reason is obvious. Loot Boxes are a source of income for software developers through micro-transactions, such as buying items.
Take FIFA 22, for example. About 400,000 players play this game daily across different platforms. Then, say, at least 200,000 players buy FIFA points with real currency. That’s millions of money, don’t you think?
Here’s a fact: The European video game market in 2018 was worth €21 Billion. That’s not all. This market has a 15% annual growth rate.
The Interactive Software Federation of Europe gave an interesting report regarding the video game market. According to the report, in-app purchases, including Loot Boxes, result in a 34% turnover in the video game market.
The Negative Effects of Loot Boxes on Players
In-game purchases generate good revenue for game developers. While that’s a plus on their side, there are some concerns from the consumer’s perspective.
The risk/reward system of Loot Boxes closely resembles gambling. If you think about it, you could receive any item upon opening a Loot Box.
In short, you don’t have control over what will happen, just like gambling. You may receive a pleasant surprise upon opening it for the first time. Or, you may continuously get a low-value item you dislike.
This is what happens: If you win a high-value item, you may want to keep playing. That’s because you want to unlock more high-value items.
If you unlock a worthless item, on the other hand, you’ll still want to keep playing. The reason is that you think you may get a high-value item upon another attempt.
If you’re a player with some money to spend, you may buy more items until you hit the jackpot. But the question is, how likely are you going to hit the jackpot?
Not all games with Loot Boxes display the probability of winning an item. That means if you fail to get an item you desire, you’ll have to spend lots of money.
While some items give you an upper hand against other players, it also creates a hole in your pocket. Even worse, you become addicted without knowing.
The addiction aspect comes about when you purchase an item that makes your avatar superior. As the level of the game progresses, the game becomes harder.
Of course, as the game gets harder, you’ll need to purchase more items so you can get past that level. As a result, you’ll find yourself in a vicious cycle of purchasing items to play the game until you become addicted.
Another major negative effect of Loot Boxes revolves around your finances. The in-app purchases may lead to a loss of finances. Even worse, debts. This may occur as a result of addiction that forces you to spend more.
Are Loot Boxes Really Gambling?
Most people regard the random rewards from in-game Loot Boxes as a form of gambling. This is despite the micro-transactions involved being straightforward.
According to onlinecasinosrealmoney.co.nz: In 2017, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) declined to classify Loot Boxes as gambling. The ESRB is a body that rates games in terms of violence, sexual abuse, and age appropriateness.
According to ESRB, it’s not a must for players to purchase Loot Boxes. They are voluntary features that enhance the experience of players.
Four months later, the ESRB added the “in-game purchases” label. ESRB stated that the label would apply to all games with Loot Boxes, downloadable skins, and DLC.
However, things seemed to take a different turn at the legal level. Hawaiian representative Chris Lee said Loot Boxes are “predatory practices” by software vendors. In fact, he nicknamed Battlefront II a “Star-wars themed online casino”.
As you can see, there seems to be a disagreement about whether Loot Boxes are a form of gambling. Some EU countries that believe Loot Boxes are gambling have already banned them.
Speaking of that…
European Union Countries That Have Banned Loot Boxes
Here are some of the countries in the European Union that have already banned Loot Boxes:
In 2020, the Netherlands banned Loot Boxes. Furthermore, it made a ruling against Electronic Arts (EA), a heavyweight game publisher.
The ruling from the Netherlands Gaming Authority stated EA would incur €500,000 per week. That is if it continues to sell Loot Boxes through FIFA’s Ultimate Team.
According to the Netherlands Gaming Authority, EA will pay €250,000. Also, the gambling regulatory body will impose the same fine on EA’s branch in Swiss. This will total €500,000.
Despite this, EA sought to appeal, arguing that Loot Boxes shouldn’t be considered gambling. According to them, in-game Loot Boxes have no monetary value outside FIFA’s packs.
Right behind the Netherlands, Belgium banned Loot Boxes. The rules were even stricter than those of the Netherlands.
Belgium concluded that the risk-reward system of Loot Boxes is similar to gambling. On top of that, it declared Loot Boxes a form of illegal gambling.
According to Belgium’s Gaming Commission, several games with in-game Loot Boxes violated its laws. They include:
- FIFA 18
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Notably, NBA 2K19 and Overwatch publishers are some of the developers that stopped selling Loot Boxes in Belgium. This, however, was not the case for EA, the publisher of FIFA 18. The company, however, said they would continue working with regulators in Belgium.
In 2022, 18 countries from the European Union called for the regulation of Loot Boxes in the EU. They used Raid: Shadow Legends and FIFA 22 games to back their report.
According to the report, FIFA 22 lures players to purchase coins and points. The latter, as stated in the report, requires using real currency. This was also the case for Raid: Shadow Legends.
Now over to the big question…
Will In-Game Loot Boxes Get Banned in the Entire EU Region?
The debate about whether Loot Boxes are gambling or not seems to get hotter by the day. A few countries in the European Union have already banned Loot Boxes.
We’ve seen that over 20 countries in the EU seem to be against Loot Boxes. Is this enough to convince the EU Council to ban in-game Loot Boxes permanently? Well, maybe, or maybe not.
As you may know, all EU member states must agree before approving a sensitive issue such as this one. But some game publishers don’t seem to relent, as seen by filing their appeal against decisions made by individual EU countries.