The controversy over loot boxes in games has picked up once again. Publisher Square Enix announced that it would be pulling three mobile games from stores in Belgium due to the availability of loot boxes which contravene local gambling laws. And these were not minor games, either — the three titles are Mobius Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts Union X, and Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia, three of the publisher’s most popular mobile games.
Loot boxes are reward systems which can be purchased either with virtual or real money and which give out randomized in-game prizes. They were banned in Belgium earlier this year, due to their similarity to gambling. Although loot boxes are a feature of many modern games, they are controversial. Fans of the boxes say that they are a fun mechanic that allows players who want to spend a little more money on a game to support developers and get rare items, but critics argue that by taking real money for a randomized prize, the boxes are essentially virtual gambling.
The government of Belgium seems to agree with the critics, deciding in April that three popular games — Overwatch, Fifa 18, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive — were against the country’s gambling laws. Since then, other games have fallen foul of this law too and have had to be pulled from Belgian stores. Now Square Enix has joined this group, telling the Guardian that they had to pull their titles due to “the present uncertain legal status of ‘loot boxes’ under Belgian law.”
Belgium is not the only place to move against loot boxes. Earlier this year, a bill to ban the selling of games with loot boxes to minors was debated in Hawaii, in order to protect young people from the urge to gamble. The concern over minors is particularly focused on free-to-play mobile games, which encourage gamers to buy in microtransactions that can cause spending to spiral out of control. While traditional games like Guild Wars 2 are able to avoid legal issues by simply removing loot box content from their games and making money from sales, free-to-play mobile games often make all of their money from loot boxes or similar systems.
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