Column: Stripped Down For Belgium, A Post-Lootbox Ruling

Rest in peace, Belgium gaming. That’s hyperbole.

This week Belgium declared that lootboxes in the fashion of Counter Strike: GO and Overwatch constitute illegal gambling, threatening their associated developers with monetary fines and jail sentences if they don’t comply. This week and the following weeks will no doubt consist of executives meeting with lawyers in board rooms and asking questions like who would they jail, does a Belgian company have jurisdiction over our digital game, and what is the cheaper alternative between either altering our systems specifically for the local market, or pulling out of it entirely.

It isn’t so hard to imagine developers handling the Belgium market in the same way that they’ve taken care of Germany in regards to depictions of the swastika, or other European countries in regards to explicit content in games like South Park. The cheapest and most obvious answer is that companies will, at least in the short term, completely disable the purchasing of loot boxes, including the ability to purchase said boxes with fake currency purchased with real currency, in Belgium to comply with the law. I’m sure developers are currently looking at ways to generate new revenue streams in Belgium without getting on the bad side of the law, and others are looking at lobbying efforts to have that part of the law nullified completely.

Then again, I’m not a bean counter at any of these companies and have no up to date information on exactly how much money is coming out of Belgium. The latest information I can find is from 2011 estimating 220 million euros and climbing rather quickly. Belgium may be a country of about 11 million people, but approximately half of them were gaming in 2011. Again, this is something that individual developers are going to have to assess going forward. One outcome that is definitely not going to happen would be the games removing loot boxes entire from every market, not just Belgium. There is far too much profit to give up for no good (translation: legally required) reason.

I find it hard to believe that the AAA developers are going to pull out of Belgium entirely, although you will see this from smaller publishers for whom the cost of molding their titles around Belgian law don’t justify the kind of sales they would get in the country. At this juncture, that would still be the nuclear option and one that in my humble and admittedly not backed by hard data opinion, seems like there should be plenty of better options available. In order for wide-spread changes to be had in the industry, a substantial part of the market is going to have to follow Belgium’s lead and enact/enforce similar gambling laws.

One thing we can be assured of is that business will not be as usual. Otherwise I have no opinion on the matter.

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