Loot boxes have been a controversial gaming topic since their inception, but more recently, it seems that player dissatisfaction with them has reached something of a fever pitch. We have Electronic Arts and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 to thank for that, but not only did Battlefront 2‘s overreaching loot boxes cause players to lash out, it also attracted the attention of some governments around the world. Now, The Netherlands has determined that some loot boxes do indeed constitute gambling, and it’s telling publishers to change their ways.
The Dutch gaming authority has delivered a report on an investigation into 10 games featuring loot boxes. As translated by Eurogamer, the investigation found that loot boxes in four of these titles broke Dutch laws surrounding gambling, namely the country’s Betting and Gaming Act. Since all types of loot boxes seem to emulate the feeling of pulling the lever on a slot machine, why were just these four titles singled out?
Apparently, there was one big difference between the loot boxes featured in these four titles and the other six. In the four coming under criticism, the items found in loot boxes could later be traded or sold, meaning that players can win things that have real-world value from opening them. While the report itself didn’t name these four titles, NOS singles them out as FIFA 18, DotA 2, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Rocket League.
Indeed, the cosmetics and other items found in loot boxes for DotA 2, PUBG, and Rocket League can be sold or traded through the Steam marketplace, and that’s a big no-no in the eyes of the Dutch gaming authority. The agency said that the publishers of these games need a gambling license in order to keep offering these loot boxes, and they must bring their titles in line with the law by June 20 or face “enforcement action.”
That’s a pretty clear line in the sand right there, but the other titles investigated didn’t get off scot-free. The agency found that all loot boxes have addictive elements to them, and tells publishers to implement changes to stave off potentially addictive effects. The changes the agency would like to see include removing “almost winning” effects and visual effects that are meant to make opening loot boxes exciting, along with adding cooldown timers in between loot box openings to prevent players from opening a large number in quick succession.
Here in the US, we’ve seen some politicians speak out against loot boxes, but thus far, there haven’t been any new rules laid down. The ESRB recently announced that it will label retail copies of games that feature in-game purchases, so things are definitely heading in the right direction. This decision from the Netherlands, however, could prompt other governments to take a closer look at just how manipulative loot boxes can be, so this will certainly be a topic to watch as we continue to move through 2018. Stay tuned.