EA under criminal investigation in Belgium due to loot boxes

The Belgian government is launching a criminal investigation after EA refused to remove the loot boxes from FIFA 18 and 19.

After an investigation led by Belgium’s Gaming Commission, it was determined that loot boxes are a form of gambling therefore illegal in the country. Four games were under investigation, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Star Wars Battlefront 2 and FIFA 18. Only Star Wars wasn’t flagged by the commission.

Blizzard, Valve and 2K Games decided to remove the loot boxes from their games in Belgium. EA refused to do it arguing that loot boxes include the same number of items every time and can’t be exchanged for real money.

It is undeniable that loot boxes are, in a way, a game of chance. However, there is room for debate about whether or not, these transactions should be considered gambling. EA’s failure to adhere to Belgium’s gambling laws put the company on the radar of the Brussels public prosecutor’s office.

Koen Geens, Minister of Justice said: “The games with paid loot boxes, as currently offered in our country, are therefore in violation of the gaming legislation and can be dealt with under criminal law. The loot boxes must therefore also be removed. If that does not happen, the operators risk a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 800,000 euros. When minors are involved, those punishments can be doubled.”

EA is not the first company facing legal issues due to in-game purchases. Back in 2014, Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission filed a lawsuit against Valve. Early this year, the company lost the appeal and is set to pay a $2.4 million (£1.87 million) fine.

Do loot crates constitute gambling? Jonathan Tilbury, executive director at NSE, Ben Haden, programme director at Insight, Sophie Goossens, Counsel at Reed Smith and Ian Smith, commissioner at ESIC are answering this question in the upcoming ESI London.

Esports Insider says: Access to video games is massive nowadays, considered by parents as harmless fun for children. Unsupervised children are vulnerable and prone to purchase in-game items without considering the implications. Governments are trying to protect minors and with a good reason. Game developers must find a middle ground so they can monetize the games without legal issues.  

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