Study claims country-wide loot box ban isn’t “practically achievable”

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A new study into loot boxes claims that a country-wide ban on loot boxes isn’t “practically achievable”.

It comes after it was found that the Belgian law passed in 2018, ruling loot boxes as a form of gambling and therefore illegal, wasn’t being enforced.

Earlier this year, Blizzard‘s Diablo Immortal was not sold in Belgium or the Netherlands due to their laws on loot boxes. However, the report written by researcher Leon Y Xiao states the Belgium’s gambling law regulation of video game loot boxes has been ineffective, with many companies ignoring the ban or easily circumventing measures to comply with the law.

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“Technically, the Belgian Gaming Commission (the gambling regulator) said that paid loot boxes cannot be offered without a licence,” explained Xiao before stating that under current law, no company can ever obtain a license, essentially making them illegal.

“But importantly, there was never a positive act of ‘banning’ loot boxes by the legislators. There is no law in Belgium that literally says that: ‘paid loot boxes are banned’.”

The study went on to say that a vast majority of the 100 highest-grossing Belgian iPhone games featured loot boxes, with compliant companies replaced by companies not following the letter of the law.

“As of mid 2022, 82 per cent, the vast majority, of the highest grossing iPhone games in Belgium continued to sell boxes for real world money and seemingly continued to heavily rely on such randomised mechanics to monetise and generate revenue,” wrote Xiao.

“For the avoidance of doubt, in each of these 82 games, players were able to either directly spend real world money, or indirectly spend premium currency that is purchasable using real world money, to engage in a randomised monetisation method whose results are unknown at the point of purchase,” he continued.

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He goes on to say that “the manner in which the ‘ban’ was then subsequently enforced (or rather, not enforced at all) has a number of potential negative consequences that arguably render the ban worse than doing nothing at all.”

In his report, Xiao explains that the ban gave video game consumers (including children and parents) the “false impression that Belgian players are safe from loot boxes” meaning they aren’t taking the appropriate measures to protect themselves and others.

Similarly, “Belgian legislators might be less willing to update the country’s gambling law to specifically regulate loot boxes because they might deem the situation as having already been resolved.“

“The Belgian ‘ban’ has evidently not worked likely due to the Belgian Gaming Commission not actively enforcing the law. To my knowledge, the Commission has not been provided with adequate resources (money, manpower, etc.) to enforce the law against every non-compliant company,” he said on Twitter.

Because of this, the report ultimately concludes that “the complete elimination of the loot box mechanic from a country is not practically achievable. Belgium should reevaluate its regulatory position. A blanket ban approach to regulation cannot be recommended to other countries. Other less restrictive approaches to (the problem) regulation should be considered”.

In July, the UK government warned the video game industry that it needs to crack down on how it treats loot boxes, or it’ll be met with legislation tightening up the issue. 

The inclusion of loot boxes in games is expected to generate around $20billion (£14.4billion) in revenue by 2025, according to one report.