The company has chosen to ignore the Belgium's ruling against in-game loot boxes, prompting the launch of an investigation by the Belgian government.
In April, Belgium put a law in place that defines paid-for loot boxes in games like Overwatch, CS:GO, and EA’s own FIFA 18, as gambling, making them subject to the country’s gambling laws. Refusal to remove the feature could result in a monetary fine of up to 800,000 euros or even potential jail time of up to five years. FIFA 18 features “Ultimate Team Packs” that players can buy to bolster their custom team composition.
Since the ruling, Blizzard has removed the paid portion of the feature from Overwatch and its MOBA, Heroes of the Storm. Valve and 2K games also removed the feature from CS:GO and NBA 2K18 respectively. EA, it seems, has outright ignored the ruling, prompting the Belgian government to launch its own investigation into the company, according to the Belgian news site Metro. The investigation will be handled by the Brussels public prosecutor’s office.
Following the ruling, EA released a statement, saying “We strongly believe that our games are developed and implemented ethically and lawfully around the world, and take these responsibilities very seriously….We welcome the dialogue with Minister Geens on these topics, as we do not agree that our games can be considered as any form of gambling."
The Belgian government considers loot boxes an illegal form of gambling because players can’t be certain what product they’re going to receive before purchasing it.
EA is no stranger to hotly contested legal battles. Its EA Sports division was forced to partially compensate NCAA players for the use of their likeness following a lawsuit that was settled in 2015. EA ended up paying a portion of the $60 million settlement alongside the NCAA. If EA is found guilty in Belgian court, they could face the aforementioned 800,000 euro fine, which roughly equates to $920,000 US.
In terms of public image, EA has taken no small amount of flak from customers and gamer culture. The company was pushed to remove the loot box feature after Battlefront 2 was criticized for tying its player progression to the paid rewards, lending wealthier players an unfair advantage. This led to widespread coverage of the controversy, including from traditional media outlets like CNN and Huffington Post.
The morbid irony of Belgium’s recent ruling is that the one company fighting against it may have been the origin point for the controversial mechanic’s increased news coverage.
GameDaily has reached out to EA for comment on the Belgian government’s investigation. It is currently unclear what steps either party will take from here. EA could choose to stomach the 800,000 euro fine if they believe they’ll make up the difference elsewhere, but it remains to be seen if the Belgian government will enact additional fines or punishment afterwards.