The Belgian Gaming Commission, which is the body in charge of regulating gambling in the country, has launched an investigation into the popular titles Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Overwatch. The aim of the investigation is to determine if the loot box systems, that those games use, should be considered gambling.
The story, first reported by VTM News, broke yesterday in the wake of a week of headlines around loot boxes and microtransations. Both games actually use two different systems for their loot boxes. Overwatch loot boxes contain items that are cosmetic only, while Star Wars: Battlefront 2 loot boxes contain items which can affect in game play.
It seems that the investigation will try to answer a simple question; are loot boxes a “game of chance”? In Belgium, games of chance are heavily regulated, using a striated licensing system. The Belgian Gaming Commission are the people who control the licenses, so it is up to them to decide if any game involving loot boxes would fall under their remit.
They also have a very interesting legal definition of a game of chance. The below is taken from the Gaming Commission website.
Any game by which a stake of any kind is committed, the consequence of which is either loss of the stake by at least one of the players or a gain of any kind in favour of at least one of the players, or organisers of the game and in which chance is a factor, albeit ancillary, for the conduct of the game, determination of the winner or fixing of the gain.
Now, obviously a lot can be lost in translation, and this will end up being a pretty nuanced case. It will also have no direct impact outside of Belgium. What it might do is spark other Gambling Commissions to do similar investigations. In the vast majority of countries, gaming licenses cost money, and few government bodies pass up the chance to generate more revenue.
There are also instances already in place of a game operating differently in one market than it does in others. Overwatch, for example, shows loot box odds in China due to a legal requirement, but does not in any other market. As such it remains to be seen what, if any, impact such an investigation might actually have on the industry.