In the latest twist in the ongoing saga of loot boxes – or similar items that reward a purchase with an item at random – the Dutch Gaming Authority (or Kansspelautoriteit) has made the decision that some loot boxes can be considered gambling, and instructed video game publishers that they will need to make changes in order to comply with Dutch law.
Per a translation by Eurogamer, the authority examined the use of loot boxes in ten games (seemingly the ten most popular on Steam) and found that four of them directly contravene the Dutch Betting and Gambling Act. Although the authority itself didn’t name the games involved, NOS reports that the four games in question are FIFA 18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Rocket League.
The crucial difference with these games versus others appears to be that the loot boxes they provide have a real-world value. Their potential for resale (for example, selling on players or teams from FIFA for real money) develops a real world value beyond the initial purchase. Offering items such as this for sale based on chance is restricted under Dutch law and requires a gambling license, which these games will need to apply for if they want to continue operating in the Netherlands.
The authority doesn’t stop there, however, labelling all loot boxes as potentially addictive and and describing them as “similar to slot machines and roulette in terms of design and mechanisms”. As such, it’s demanding that games that use loot boxes remove “addiction-sensitive” elements, such as flashy effects to increase excitement upon opening a loot box, or the ability to open several loot boxes in quick succession.
Stating that the authority’s priority is “the protection of vulnerable groups, such as minors”, the Netherlands Gaming Authority has set a deadline of June 20, 2018 for companies in question to comply, following which it will actively consider enforcement action up to and including fines or a ban.
This isn’t the first time loot boxes have been in the news, just recently Nintendo has come under fire for adding loot box-like items to mobile game Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, EA is still dealing with the fallout from the controversial loot box system in Star Wars: Battlefront 2, and both Belgium and Washington State have instructed their gambling commissions to take a closer look at the issue.
The UK, meanwhile, has ruled that loot boxes shouldn’t be classed as gambling but continues to keep a close eye on the topic, with the same holding true in New Zealand. The ESRB, meanwhile, will be using an “In-Game Purchases” sticker to identify games which contain microtransactions such as loot boxes.
It remains to be seen how publishers will respond to the ruling in the Netherlands, but we’ll update with any formal responses as and why they arrive. In the meantime, it seems certain that the thorny issue of loot boxes will remain a controversial topic for some time to come.
Matt Davidson is a freelance writer for IGN who never seems to stop talking about loot boxes. You can follow him on Twitter if you like.