It all started with Star Wars: Battlefront 2. EA’s frankly absurd unlock system within the game – requiring players to play for 4,258 hours, or cough up nearly €1800, to unlock everything – drew criticism from thousands of gamers, and it wasn’t long before mainstream media began to catch on. This started a domino effect of various major news publications condemning loot boxes in popular games. Eventually, the Belgian and Danish governments announced that loot boxes of any kind constituted illegal gambling. Many developers such as Valve moved quickly to disable loot boxes within their respective games. EA, however, decided to keep the loot boxes and face down any legal action that might result.
While it’s clear that EA has overstepped the line in this regard, many – if not all – other publishers are proactively trying to make their in-game systems fairer, and the general attitude towards loot boxes within the gaming community is mostly positive.
The Belgian government’s threats of legal actions were not empty; just over a week ago it was announced that they were launching a criminal investigation into EA when it was reported that the publisher would neither modify nor remove the pack opening system from FIFA. It appears that EA is intending to fight the case, should they be prosecuted.
Now, in what seems to be a follow up, fifteen European gambling regulators, alongside one from the US, have announced in conjunction that they will “address the risks created by the blurring of lines created between gambling and gaming”. The primary objective of those involved appears to be a crackdown on unlicensed third party websites facilitating illegal gambling using items linked to various video games. There’s been many a scandal in relation to these sites before, a prime example being CSGOLotto. CS:GO’s publisher, Valve, eventually issued cease-and-desist notices to many of the largest skin gambling sites. But the problem didn’t entirely go away. This new effort, organised at the 2018 Gambling Regulators European Forum, illustrates just that.
The organisers have also said that they want game providers to “ensure that features within games, such as loot boxes, do not constitute gambling under national laws”. This indicates that they are seeking to put a complete end to any illegal activities in this regard. Previous initiatives that have been undertaken by individual countries have not gotten far, so this more unified approach could result in a greater impact on “gambling” in video games.