Belgium may classify Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2 as gambling

The ESRB said in October that loot boxes, despite their inherent randomness, are not a form of gambling. A couple of days later, PEGI and Ukie agreed. Shortly after that, so did the UK government, although somewhat less firmly, and with a promise to "continue to monitor developments in the market." Developments, perhaps, like the Belgian Gaming Commission's announcement that it's investigating whether Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2 should be classified as gambling. 

The issue, of course, is the inclusion of loot boxes. As VTM News (Google translated) notes, you play the game to improve your character, or if you're lacking the time or inclination, you can throw money at it and pop some box tops. And that's the problem: You're spending money, but you don't know what you're getting. The system is "dependent on chance," Gaming Commission director Peter Naessens said, which is why the games are now under investigation.

Depending on how that goes, both games might end up classified as gambling, which could cost EA and Blizzard "hundreds of thousands of euros" in fines, and possibly even see them removed from sale. But the potential repercussions go beyond that, as a gambling classification in Belgium would almost inevitably pressure regulators in other countries to take the same steps.

Potentially, that could lead to a walkback of loot boxes in premium-priced games, as publishers will have to consider whether the cost of a gambling classification (and associated negative feedback) is worth the return. But it could also open the door to regulation of other, unrelated media—anything, really, where people are spending money on something without knowing exactly what they're getting. Which isn't necessarily a bad outcome, just an unpredictable one. Kind of ironic, under the circumstances. 

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.