The verdict of the Belgian Commission was a bang, which must have gone through the mark and leg of those responsible for the major game publishers. The lootbox system in EA's multiplayer shooter Star Wars: Battlefront 2 sparked massive protests within the gaming community. So far, players have never been this stubborn when it comes to defending themselves against individual game elements. Dealing with the issue of whether loot boxes can be legally classified as a game of chance was only a matter of time. Belgium and the Netherlands were ultimately the pioneers in the clarification of the question of how loot boxes should be evaluated as game systems. The surprising result of the Belgian Gambling Commission is now: Yes, Lootboxes are games of chance!
But how much does loot boxes really affect a video game? And how much responsibility should state institutions take on to protect mature players from themselves?
Loot boxes are a game of chance: judgment with a signal effect?
In the opinion of the Belgian Gambling Commission, loot boxes in video games are clearly classified as games of chance. In the specific case of EAs, the regulatory authority has multiplayer shooters Star Wars: Battlefront 2 declares that selling loot boxes is a game of chance. Justice Minister Koen Geens added: "Combining gambling and gaming per se, even at a young age, is detrimental to a child's mental health." This statement shows how explosive the topic is - also because recommended ages for individual video games are not an obstacle for young players to play the titles anyway. What absolutely has to arise in the context of the debate about loot boxes is a factual discussion about the media and gaming skills of responsible parents. Regardless of whether you classify loot boxes as a game of chance, guardians must ask themselves whether they really know what is happening on their children's screens. Adult gamers, on the other hand, answer the question of whether they buy in-game currencies for real money anyway.
According to German law, the classification is far from being so clear. Also because there is no case law on the subject. The subject of loot boxes has not been discussed in the legal literature anyway, so there is plenty of room for speculation and surprises.
The judgment of the Belgian Commission can, however, have far-reaching consequences, including sales bans for individual video games. Despite the clear position taken by Belgium, the issue is far from being fully discussed within the EU. USK and ESRB have decided to the contrary that loot boxes are not a game of chance - but in the case of Overwatch. In contrast to EA, Blizzard relies exclusively on cosmetic goods. at Star Wars Battlefront 2 on the other hand, the digital container contain items that may have a direct impact on the gameplay - or at least a faster availability of skills.
Geographically, the debate is widespread. It is not certain how many passionate gamers actually live in the US state of Hawaii, but apparently it is enough for the politician Chris Lee, member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, to feel called to comment on the subject. According to Lee is the multiplayer shooter Star Wars Battlefront 2 "an online casino in Star Wars guise for young people – and a trap”. Electronic Arts pursue with the business model as well "predatory practices". Harsh words that may overshoot the mark, but show how explosive loot boxes really are in video games.
It seems that the last word has not yet been spoken. Belgium is pursuing the plan “to go across Europe' to finally clarify the question. A decision by the EU Commission could then have transnational consequences – for game developers, publishers and players.
Loot boxes as essential sources of income
For game developers and publishers, loot boxes are not just nice gimmicks, they are monetary factors that not infrequently determine the financial success of a game. Even if Electronic Arts has stopped microtransactions for the time being Star Wars Battlefront 2 removed, it is certain that these will come again. In a revised form, players should then spend small amounts again to flush money into the publisher's coffers. Even if many gamers like to ignore the fact: game manufacturers are commercial enterprises and by their nature are encouraged to make profits. Ultimately also to be able to create new game titles at all. Players often feel ripped off by voluntary microtransactions because they do not get the full content of a game even though they have purchased the full price title.
The argument is opposed to the motto of the "Games as a service", i.e. the constant implementation of new content in a full-price game. For fans, this should be more of an enrichment than a profound cut, because the lifespan of individual video games is increased immensely in this way. It's important to remember that the development of future content expansions has to be paid for - and by no means every update is certain at the time of a video game's release. The theory that developers and publishers deliberately hold back all updates does not always work.
Nevertheless, the financial background cannot be denied. As an example: Take Two, the pusblisher from GTA, generated over 40 percent of the revenue with recurring payments from passionate gamers. Even if the game market is changing due to protests by players and institutional statements, publishers will not completely do without such efficient systems in the future either.
The Lootbox Dilemma: Cosmetics vs. Gameplay
The basic problem that players have with microtransactions and loot boxes is understandable in individual cases. Rather conservative gamers want to invest money once in a full-price game and would prefer to forego microtransactions. Purely cosmetic content, like in Blizzard's hit shooter Overwatch*, are then just tolerated. However, when it comes to having to remove gaming restrictions through the use of real money, the trouble is great. Especially providers of so-called Free-2-Play games have mastered how to attract gamers to invest real money.
With the newfangled trend of loot boxes, the possible contents determine how well such luck systems are accepted by the gamblers. If it is important to you to steer a red man instead of a green man through virtual worlds, you will be ready to invest a fair amount for it. If you are forced to buy loot boxes in order to remain competitive, you will quickly get annoyed by loot box systems - often even frustrated. Electronic Arts has it Star Wars Battlefront 2 so exaggerated that changes were necessary before publication. And even these measures weren't enough, EA simply deactivated microtransactions for the time being. Oskar Gabrielson, manager of the EA studio DICE, responded to the protests of the players: "We hear you loud and clear, so we're turning off all in-game purchases."
EA and DICE were forced to react to the ongoing shitstorm, especially since the ratings in the first game tests were anything but positive. Soft paywalls were clearly noticeable because game characters like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker could only be unlocked with considerable expenditure of time. It's great that you have to work towards a goal for a long time, say some. The others find that impossible.
Star Wars Battlefront 2: Lootbox Chaos?
The Shitstorm did not want to fall silent. To smooth things over, EA and DICE first reduced the cost of unlocking the heroes, which was only tolerably accepted by the community. With the original system, EA did the video game Star Wars Battlefront 2 probably caused such serious damage to the company's image that it is uncertain that the intended sales target will be achieved.
One thing can be learned from this: Insecure content makes players insecure, which leads to economic insecurity on the part of publishers. Understood?!
Ultimately could Star Wars Battlefront 2* Not completely convincing in terms of play either. The game is a solid shooter, but the title will go down in history as a trigger for a global debate about loot boxes, gambling and paid content. EA and DICE meant it so well in advance when it was communicated that they were going to pay for DLC in the successor Star Wars Battlefront want to renounce. The timetable for the upcoming content also sounded promising. EA had made the plan without the willingness of the players to fight for a fair cause.
And to be honest: where would a rebellion fit better than a Star Wars game?