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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 covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.