A lot of people in my friend group, including my brother, have recently started playing the MMORPG Lost Ark. I know very little about this MMO if I’m honest. I know it’s been running in Korea for a while and was quite popular there. When it launched in the west, I saw everyone flock towards it, with streamers hitting ridiculous viewer counts while everyone sat in queue trying to get into the game. The game is not available in Belgium or The Netherlands, where I live. This is because of loot box laws that we have in place. Obviously anyone with a bit of knowledge about computers and VPNs could work around this easily, which is why my brother is playing the game here. But let’s talk about the reason why this game is unavailable in The Netherlands.
On our government website I could find the following (translated) quote:
Loot boxes are gambling games that game developers have added to video games. The player can open these loot boxes while gaming and win a prize. Some of these are forbidden: namely when a player can win a prize. Because the price has a value and the player can’t influence this price we’re talking about gambling. This is forbidden without a license.
So reading this it’s saying that if opening a loot box gives you a prize, that means that’s not allowed. But every loot box gives you a prize. To give an example, I can still open Apex Packs in Apex Legends. I can still buy them with real money as well. Not that I do that, their cosmetics are crazy overpriced, but that’s beside the point. Some loot boxes in the MMO that I play, Black Desert Online, are forbidden, but a vast majority of the options are not. Hearthstone card packs are legal. Overwatch loot boxes are allowed. And apparently Lost Ark’s loot boxes are not allowed at all. Because of this they chose not to launch the game here.
Now, I have two issues with this law. And that’s coming from someone who’s very much in favor of banning or limiting loot box mechanics in video games. The first one is that it’s extremely hypocritical of our government. It may seem like they’re doing this to protect people from getting addicted to gambling. And that would be a good cause. I think the mechanics employed by video game companies borrow a lot from content marketing and its predatory nature. The reason I call it hypocritical is because many, if not all forms of lottery gambling, casinos and sports gambling are owned by the government. And there’s advertisements for this stuff EVERYWHERE. I’m not kidding. I recently saw one for scratch cards that said “scratch cards, for when you’re not patient enough to wait.”
Screw that bullshit. Why the hell would they ban loot boxes they don’t profit from, then turn around and try to sell you on their own alternative that they can make money off? It’s downright disgusting that they’re doing this and it should be called out more.
The second issue I have with the law is that it seems to be very unclear. It’s not worded well from what I can find. Different people interpret it differently. That’s probably why you see some loot boxes available and others unavailable. This makes it so that companies will just exclude our tiny region from their games, like Lost Ark did. At that point you’re not even preventing any loot box gambling online, but just punishing your citizens by making games unavailable to them for arbitrary reasons. And since these laws seem to only take hold in The Netherlands and Belgium who, let’s face it, are tiny irrelevant countries on a world stage, it just results in companies ignoring our region and the actual problem not getting resolved at all. That will make the law unpopular and eventually someone will pop up in politics promising to abolish it and get votes and do so. And that’s a shame, since any laws that make it harder to prey on people who are bad with money would be a good law. And this is definitely the kind of law I can see Brussels be interested in. That would allow it to go through for all of Europe eventually, and perhaps actually force some of these companies to review their predatory business models.
But that’s more than likely just a false hope on my end. I miss the days where I could buy a game for 50 bucks and have the entire game. That still exists, but it’s becoming more and more rare. But maybe my age is showing, I’m turning 30 this year after all, so I’m basically of retirement age according to some of my younger friends. Maybe this is me yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I just wish the world didn’t run on money nearly as much as it actually does.
Let me know what you think in the comments down below though. Maybe you have a very different stance on it. Either way, thanks for taking the time to read this.