Hot on the heels of Electronic Arts making changes to their products to comply with local laws in The Netherlands and Belgium, Blizzard Entertainment has announced that the company will be making changes to their own franchises that include loot boxes and games of chance. This is necessary to not only comply with the local laws, but to also avoid costly fines and time-consuming litigation with the gambling boards of both countries. For players in Belgium and The Netherlands, this means that they won’t be able to purchase loot boxes in these regions with in-game or real currency, and they won’t be able to trade their items off either.
In a forum post on Blizzard’s website, the company announced that they would only be disabling access to paid loot boxes, not the loot box system itself. As with the changes instituted by EA last week, the main issue at hand was the ability to spend real money to buy items that had real or perceived value and rarity among players without protections against abuse or addiction.
In April 2018, the Belgian Gaming Commission published a report that was endorsed by the Belgian Ministry of Justice in which they concluded that paid loot boxes in Overwatch are considered gambling under local law. While we at Blizzard were surprised by this conclusion and do not share the same opinion, we have decided to comply with their interpretation of Belgian law. As a result, we have no choice but to implement measures that will prevent Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm players located in Belgium from purchasing in-game loot boxes and loot chests with real money and gems.
No matter what, we want to make sure that our players around the world have the best entertainment experience possible. While players in Belgium will no longer be able to purchase paid loot boxes in Overwatch and loot chests in Heroes of the Storm, they’ll still be able to earn them by playing the games, and they’ll still have access to all in-game content.
These measures will be implemented shortly. We also remain open to further discussions with the Belgian Gaming Commission and Ministry of Justice on this topic.
On the Blizzard forums and popular hangouts such as Reddit, players have been complaining that the rulings should not apply to games which only had cosmetic items inside their loot boxes or collectible crates, especially if those items were tradeable. Overwatch, in particular, ties special items and skins to the account, and thus the items themselves don’t have a monetary value. This is why there’s a large trend of players who will sell off Overwatch accounts with certain rare items attached to it.
However, Belgium’s laws are a little more vague about what constitutes a game of chance compared to other EU member states. Games of chance are defined as “any game by which a stake of any kind is committed, the consequence of which is either loss of the stake by at least one of the players or a gain of any kind in favour of at least one of the players, or organisers of the game and in which chance is a factor, albeit ancillary, for the conduct of the game, determination of the winner or fixing of the gain”. When analysing any product or service that may have a game of chance included in its, the three components needed are a stake, a win or a loss role, and random chance or uncertainty in the outcome. According to the Belgium Gaming Commission, this is by design.
As we reach the end of August 2018, we’ll start seeing more studios make these sorts of changes to their products to comply with the rulings. When the deadline for the required changes requested by the Dutch gaming commission Kansspelautoriteit expired, the commission warned that failure to adhere to the rulings would result in a fine of €500,000 or more, along with the risk of a prison sentence for offenders.