A hallmark of modern gaming, loot boxes, for better or worse, have provided publishers with yet another avenue to monetize their digital assets and it is one that is proving controversial in practice if not in spirit.
Though some will point to the similarity between microtransactions, loot boxes, and arcade tokens, the main difference between the first two and the last is that the last was purely about access whereas the first two change the game itself.
In a practice that many politicians have compared to gambling, microtransactions that involve loot boxes often give the player a “chance” at winning some in-game power up, item, or other feature. In other words, they are not essential to playing the game but they can change the game quite drastically. To some politicians, this looks too much like gambling and the European Union, in particular, has taken a tough stance towards loot boxes.
Now reports are coming from Belgium that Square Enix plans on pulling three of its biggest titles from that market over the loot box controversy. A titan of mobile gaming and a purveyor of titles that largely use the “gacha” mechanic from Japanese pop culture, Square Enix’s titles rely heavily on loot boxes and microtransactions to make money. The removal of this feature or the elimination of the ability to have loot boxes makes many of these properties unviable.
After December, gamers will no longer have access to Kingdom Hearts Union X, Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia, and Mobius Final Fantasy. That’s a bummer for anyone that plays those games but it has to be especially harsh for people who have spent money to advance themselves in those titles.
This is due to the Belgian Gaming Commission’s recent decision to prosecute companies that offer games with loot boxes for subverting gambling laws. As Niche Gamer reports, rather than fight the good fight, Square Enix is pulling out entirely and advises their customers in Belgian to enjoy the game while it lasts.
A statement to the player on the Kingdom Hearts app reads: “We regret to inform you that due to the present uncertain legal status of ‘loot boxes’ under Belgian law, KINGDOM HEARTS Union χ[Cross] will be withdrawn from service in Belgium in 30 days, on Dec. 6, 2018 (UTC) at the earliest.” Square Enix has placed similar messages on the other two games as well.
All of this comes on the heels of a reported issue in April by the Belgian Gaming Commission that called out a range of publishers for subverting the anti-gambling laws with their loot boxes. Most of the companies have complied and folded their loot box-based games in Belgium but Electronic Arts have chosen to fight it out in court. But, even if EA’s challenge succeeds, it is unlikely that Belgium’s attitude towards loot boxes will change anytime soon. Peter Naessens of the Belgian Gaming Commission plans on getting the laws changed to include loot boxes if EA succeeds in their legal appeal.