Publisher EA dug in its heels for as long as it could manage, but it’s finally stopped selling loot boxes, in Belgium that is. Following a 2018 ruling by the Belgian Gambling Commission that officially recognized loot boxes to be a form of gambling, EA made the bold (and illegal) decision in September 2018 to leave gambling elements in the Belgian release of FIFA 19. It’s likely that this was the publisher’s way of testing to see what it could get away with, and, evidently, EA’s grand experiment has failed.
Since April 2018, the Belgian Gambling Commission has proclaimed loot boxes and similarly predatory forms of monetization in gaming to fall under its jurisdiction, recommending their immediate removal from all games not adhering to Belgian gambling law (i.e., all of them). While Overwatch publisher Activision-Blizzard and others took immediate steps to ensure their games were in line with Belgium’s redefined gambling laws, EA took an unprecedentedly brazen stance upon the release of FIFA 19. Insisting that the game’s Ultimate Team mode and FIFA Points currency didn’t amount to a game of chance, loot boxes have remained a major part of Ultimate Team in the Belgian releases of FIFA 18 and 19.
Until now, that is; in a brief statement, EA has announced that it will no longer sell FIFA Points in Belgium and extends its apologies to Belgian FIFA players “for any inconvenience caused by this change.” For those Belgian players still in possession of FIFA Points at the time of their stoppage of sale, EA promises, “Any players in Belgium that have existing FIFA Points in their accounts can continue to use them, but they will not be able to purchase more.” They also clarify that the Ultimate Team mode will still be playable in Belgium, as well the facts that Belgian players’ teams will remain untouched and that players will still be unlockable in-game without the purchase of loot boxes, “as has always been the case.”
EA makes it clear that its withdrawal on the matter is a begrudging one, declaring that it still disagrees with the Belgian Gambling Commision’s “interpretation of the law” and vowing to “seek more clarity on the matter.” It should be of some concern that the latter implies that EA is still far from done with its fight for its perceived right to include loot boxes in Belgian releases of the its games, despite the fact that the publisher makes the claim that their removal from FIFA won’t be “material to our financial performance.” That statement is likely aimed more at privy EA shareholders than at the fairly niche demographic of Belgian FIFA players being affected by the change, but nonetheless raises the question of why the publisher has staved off this decision for so long if Belgian loot box sales are of little consequence to the corporation’s bottom line.
The answer probably lies in the simple fact that EA recognizes the potential of the Belgian Gambling Commission’s original conclusion to inspire more anti-loot box legislation elsewhere, fearing a domino effect across the region that could very well result in a EU-wide ban. In conceding defeat in this low-cost but high-profile battle in Belgium, EA is likely now fearful of losing revenue from FIFA‘s premier form of monetization in the event that a much greater portion of its market is swept from beneath its feet as the terms of losing a larger war. Admittedly, it’s not exactly easy to feel bad for the publishing giant – gaming is not the only industry affected by regulations and consumer protections, and plenty of other publishers made the easy decision to comply with Belgian law. Really, the only tragedy to be found in this story is in the fate of invested Belgian FIFA 19 Ultimate Team players who now will have to navigate a steep artificial grind once designed to manipulate them into using real money to purchase FIFA Points.
Source: Electronic Arts