Loot boxes have become the focal point of an Internet-based international debacle over the past few months. The debate has divided invested parties into two main camps, those that see loot boxes as an essential part of the modern online (multiplayer) video game, and those that see it as a form of online gambling, based on the fact that certain currencies are involved in the purchase of loot boxes. However, before we delve a little deeper into the loot box controversy, let’s take a quick look at what so-called loot boxes actually are.
Loot Boxes – What are they Anyway?
If you’ve never even heard of loot boxes, don’t worry, you’re not alone! That’s because loot boxes, in most games at least, are still a relatively new phenomenon. Loot boxes are essentially virtual boxes found inside leading online games such as Overwatch, Gears of War, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and many others. Loot boxes usually contain a range of game-related items which are designed to help you out in the game in some or other way.
Here’s the problem with loot boxes though…
While on the surface it may seem as though loot boxes are a good idea, particularly if they contain items that may help you get through an awkward stage or even beat a stage boss, there is one tiny snag. This tiny snag is the proverbial spanner in the works for one simple reason. In most games, the contents of loot boxes are unknown to the players. In other words, you have no idea if the loot box in question contains items that will help you in the game or include things which are in fact entirely useless within the game. Players are required to purchase loot boxes, either with collected in-game currency or with real-world money. Once you’ve decided to go ahead and buy a loot box, you may just discover that the loot box is utterly useless to you and you have wasted your money. In the eyes of many authorities, including the Belgian authorities, this constitutes a form of online gambling, since you are taking a chance on an outcome after having paid for it. Even if you get an item that you can use, you may have to purchase more loot boxes until you reach a sort of ‘jackpot stage’.
Loot boxes can be found in a wide range of games, including the afore-mentioned Overwatch, Gears of War, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. There are of course many other popular games that contain loot boxes including Forza Motorsport 7, Shadow of War, Middle Earth, Halo 5: Guardians and Star Wars Battlefront 2.
After lengthy investigations into games that contain loot boxes, Belgium has gone ahead and declared that loot boxes are in fact a ‘game of chance’ and consequently subject to Belgian gambling laws. This effectively makes loot boxes illegal, a move which follows hot on the heels of the Netherlands, who declared them illegal on the same grounds.