The Belgian Attorney General is currently conducting a criminal investigation into Electronic Arts (EA). The video game publisher continues to offer the so-called “loot boxes” in its FIFA 18 and FIFA 19 video games even though they’re illegal in this European country.
Loot boxes are one of the strategies used by video game developers and publishers to make their games more profitable. These virtual rewards sometimes reward a player for his efforts or playing time for free, but they are more often sold for money.
Loot boxes generally contain randomly selected “cosmetics” elements that do not influence the game and that players can use to disguise their character or change the appearance of the game’s interface. In some cases, however, they also offer some in-game advantages, a controversial phenomenon among gamers, called “pay to win.”
These in-game rewards are viewed as a form of “gambling” that is illegal in the eyes of the Belgian Gaming Commission, since the players who buy them do not know their content in advance.
Electronic Arts is now a subject of criminal investigation in Belgium for selling loot boxes
Both Belgium and the Netherlands have concluded that these gambling elements are illegal in video games. On the other hand, the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand have determined the opposite. In the United States and Australia, the debate is ongoing, while in Canada, however, the provincial gaming authorities in Ontario and Quebec have indicated that loot boxes offered in video games are not under their jurisdiction.
Earlier this year, the Belgian Gaming Commission called on video game publishers to stop offering these loot boxes. Otherwise, they would be fined €800,000 (about $1.2 million).
Major companies including Blizzard Entertainment, devs of Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm, Valve (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), and 2K Games no longer sell loot boxes across Belgium, although some of them still offer these rewards for free to reward loyal gamers.
However, Electronic Arts keeps on selling their loot boxes in two of its most popular games, FIFA 18 and the new FIFA 19. The company’s CEO, Andrew Wilson, believes that disclosing the number of rewards in each gift is enough to ensure that it is not gambling. If the Belgian Gaming Commission finds any illegalities, Electronic Arts could be criminally prosecuted for selling loot boxes.