Belgium's Justice Minister calls for loot box ban in Europe (Updated)

The case for and against loot boxes

We talked to veteran game developers about why loot boxes have become so common in big budget games, and what they think of them. Read what they had to say here.

Update: According to Belgian news site RTBF (Google translated), Belgium's Gaming Commission has not actually finalized its decision on whether loot boxes are gambling. The site says the statement that appeared in the original report, stating that the "mixture of money and addiction is a game of chance," is descriptive of the investigation's intent rather than its conclusion. 

A report linked by the site acknowledges in its conclusion both the spread of loot boxes in videogames, and the difficulty in regulating them using current laws. As always, online translation is rough, but the report indicates that game operators can be "aggressive" with in-game sales and often target "young people." It also calls for "closer cooperation between governments, software developers, and rating agencies," and says that "with the right rules and consistent enforcement," it should be possible to "protect players from the harmful effects of gambling without compromising" the games themselves."

It seems a bit odd that the Justice Minister would comment on the matter and call for a ban before the investigation was completed, but it's possible that he's simply hoping to prod the process along on the path he thinks appropriate. 

Also interesting is a line in the conclusion of the report regarding esports betting: That, apparently, falls more readily into the Gaming Commission's jurisdiction, and it is "therefore implementing a policy for esports betting." That very strongly (and unsurprisingly) suggests that the commission is looking at a lot more than just loot boxes.

Original story:

Last week, Belgium's Gaming Commission announced that it had launched an investigation into whether the loot boxes available for purchase in games like Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2 constitute a form of gambling. Today, VTM News reported that the ruling is in, and the answer is yes. 

The Google translation is a little sloppy, as usual, but the message is clear enough. "The mixing of money and addiction is gambling," the Gaming Commission declared. Belgium's Minister of Justice Koen Geens also weighed in, saying, "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child." 

Geens, according to the report, wants to ban in-game purchases outright (correction: if you don't know exactly what you're purchasing), and not just in Belgium: He said the process will take time, "because we have to go to Europe. We will certainly try to ban it." 

And now, things will start to get interesting. I've reached out to the Gaming Commission for more information, and will update if I receive a reply. 

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.