In April 2018 the Dutch Gaming Authority, Kansspelautoriteit, ruled that several games they examined in a three-month long study were breaking the law by allowing minors to participate in games of chance, and additionally introduced addictive elements such as “near wins” into their product to spur more purchases. The four companies implicated by Kansspelautoriteit in their study were all notified that they should remove loot box mechanisms from their product on or before 20 June 2018 or face the possibility of fines and jail time. Valve recently disabled trading in CS:GO and DOTA2 to comply with the ruling, but what happens to the other two publishers, and what of the thousands of other games that might also be breaking the law?
In my discussions with Kansspelautoriteit, I learned that the authority is planning to check whether the game publishers have made the necessary alterations to the games that the study examined. The board will be examining the alterations made, if any, by the publishers and will be advising whether the fixes qualify for the game to no longer be labelled as a game of chance. In The Netherlands, games of chance follow a strict guideline, and almost all of the games examined in the study qualified. Some could technically also have been considered a lottery, in which case the regulations and fines for not following them would be far greater.
If the other two games examined in the study that were considered games of chance don’t get updated soon, the Gaming Authority says they have several options available to them to enforce compliance. One of those is a fine of €830,000 or 10% of a company’s annual turnover worldwide, if the latter is larger than the initial fine. The other options are prison sentences and possible bans on the sale of one or several products sold by the company. If Electronic Arts, for example, didn’t get to fixing FIFA 18 in time for the deadline, they would be facing a 10% fine on their turnover and possible bans on FIFA 19 sales in The Netherlands. The maths works out to €43 million for EA if they don’t comply.
All that’s left then is to see who else makes their move. Any action taken now comes well after the deadline, and will attract a fine despite a publisher making the necessary fixes. Valve Corporation last week disabled Steam Market trading for items earned in DOTA 2 and CS:GO, and it appears this was a rather easy thing to implement. Valve will soon have to do the same for Belgian gamers, as the Belgian Gaming Commission came to a similar conclusion to Kansspelautoriteit.
This could also spell trouble for smaller game studios that have lootboxes that also violate the law. Kansspelautoriteit told me that consumers affected by these games should contact the Gaming Authority to report the offending game, at which point they will handle the situation and contact the company to let them know they’re violating the law, and hopefully fix the problem.