In the wake of last year’s Battlefront II controversy, many a gamer was pleased to see Belgian government standing up to EA and their predatory practices. Since the news broke out last October, we have heard no further on the matter. Many could be forgiven for thinking all the controversy has since been swept under the rug by Belgian Government, a quietly forgotten task, considered too great to surmount. After recent liaison with the Belgian Gambling Commission (the organization handling the bulk of lootbox investigation), KeenGamer is pleased to report Belgium has not dropped their case against lootbox culture in AAA titles. In fact, there have been several consequences since last October but it is important to remember a few clear distinctions before taking into consideration what we have learned this weekend from Belgium.
Contrary to what the wider journalistic media may have you believe, Belgium’s case is not necessarily against EA specifically. It is against lootboxes, wherever they may be found. Their case is also built to fight against such practices in the AAA space only, meaning indie and free-to-play titles are clear of Belgian scrutiny. It is also important to remember that this is not a battle against microtransactions. Belgium’s goal is to remove the dishonest / random chance nature of lootboxes but clearly signposted transactions within video games also remain clear of Belgian scrutiny.
Belgium’s Response to KeenGamer
In an email received from Peter Naessens of the Belgian Gambling Commission, the fight against lootbox culture is still going strong, KeenGamer can confirm. Naessens states
As the matter is now under criminal investigation by the Brussels Public Prosecution Office it’s up to the Brussels public Prosecutor to decide what precise action they are going to make. A police report about the illegal operation of gambling in Belgium has been sent to the involved parties.
Naessens goes on to say that the involved parties at present are EA, FIFA 18 and Sony. That last one came as a bit of a surprise but, as a company party to the sale of these games, it makes sense that Sony is informed of EA’s now illegal operations in Belgium.
Naessens goes on to make it clear and simple that Belgium has not lost traction in its fight against lootboxes, stating
Our conclusions are not changed and we continue to believe that paid lootboxes are a danger for minors, vulnerable people in particular and cannot be offered in Belgium without the necessary gambling regulation.
Belgium’s Recent Lootbox Regulations Have Not Been For Nothing
That regulation has already been effectively enforced on two of the four games Belgium’s Gambling Commission officially investigated. In all they were Overwatch, CounterStrike: Global Offensive, FIFA 18 and Star Wars Battlefront II. Belgium’s in-depth analysis, proposed solution and conclusion is publicly available in their report today.
It is worth bearing in mind that Naessens and his team are aware that Battlefront II dropped lootboxes at the last second before release. Despite this, as many would agree, it remains a high priority example of how things could have been and an equally valid avenue for scrutiny. Of course, the part we all know is that FIFA 18 remains unchanged as a result of Belgium’s ruling against its lootboxes, which is where the criminal investigation begins. However, in the case of CS:GO and Overwatch, changes have been made. Belgian citizens will now be navigating the menu screens of these two games, with not a single lootbox to be seen. Valve and Blizzard respectively, have acquiesced to Belgium’s ruling and removed those features exclusively in Belgium. It only makes EA’s ongoing defiance all the more apparent.
Naessens informs us that
FIFA19 is still offering paid lootboxes, available for all Belgian citizens.
Belgium Acknowledges Existing Regulatory Authorities Will Not Help
A particular part of the above mentioned report takes a moment to discuss PEGI. Of course this is the organisation that determines age ratings for video games. After also launching an investigation into PEGI, its policies and how it operates, Belgium found a damning inconsistency in their rating system. When looking at the four games investigated, it was noticed that age ratings never correlated with the presence of gambling mechanics in any one game, contrary to what a country’s legal gambling age is. In the case of Belgium, its 21 and up. The report goes on to state
They do not systematically check whether the games allow betting, winning or losing….
This is an acknowledgement that PEGI will not be likely to engage in scrutinisation of lootboxes in games, despite how it is the most likely organisation best suited to the job. According to the report, PEGI sees lootbox systems as only “simulated gambling” and therefore does not count. Perhaps top officials at PEGI should take a look at how this "simulation" is actually affecting real world people, as gambling addiction is demonstrably shooting up in young people. Most importantly, as is the case for many other countries, the age rating of a game like Overwatch clashes with the gambling age of the countries it is being played in. Authorities must first make the leap to acknowledge that lootboxes are gambling if this practice is to be curbed.
What About EA
Of course, the most high profile clash here is the case of EA. This was something that was posited to the Belgian Gambling Commission by KeenGamer, as fresh developments on the matter were a high priority. However, Naessens informed us
We have been advised not to make any further individual statements about FIFA18 (FIFA 19) in order to avoid any damaging of the legal procedure from our side.
Which, while a little disappointing, is entirely fair. When handling legal matters of this scope, it is very important to maintain a degree of confidentiality in order to keep your case solid and free of outside bias.
If anything, the main takeaway from Naessen’s comments is that EA absolutely has not been let off the hook. It’s important to remember that legal cases (especially of this scale) can take a long time get through the courts and that could be as much as, say, five years (in extreme cases).
We sought out this information because, for those who genuinely care and are concerned for the state of gaming, the lack of update on this was tantamount to deafening silence. Like many who have read this, KeenGamer will wait impatiently for further developments. Of all the news in the gaming journalistic sphere, this is something of a top priority as the result of Belgium’s battle against the defiant EA will shape the course of the games industry. More than that, its success will stand as a powerful example to other governments that action absolutely can be made against these predatory practices, that most of us do not want, but some of us fall victim to.
Belgium has already made progress with Steam and Blizzard, two massive companies that (unlike EA) have had the humility to respect a government’s law and make real changes for Belgian gamers. Of course, all of this follws suit after The Netherlands implemented similar regulations and America's Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation of its own. Sadly, for the rest of us, we must endure this unfiltered greed bending our games for the worse. Dependant on Belgium’s success, we can only look to the future and keep a KeenGamer eye on the changes it may bring.