A new study by researcher Leon Y. Xiao argues that Belgium's law against loot boxes hasn't had much of an effect in the four years since its creation. As reported by GamesIndustry, Xiao writes that the law has been so easily ignored by companies that 82 percent of Belgium's highest-grossing iPhone games during May 2021 featured loot boxes.
The Belgian Gaming Commission put the law in effect in 2018, not long after loot boxes were deemed unlawful in the Netherlands by the Netherlands Gaming Authority. That year, Belgium's Minister of Justice Koen Geens referred to loot box-heavy games such as Overwatch and FIFA 18 as "games of chance," and demanded changes to their monetization mechanics to purportedly protect children and young adults.
"It is often children who come into contact with such systems, and we cannot allow that," said Geens in 2018. "Especially when they are looking for fun in a video game." Developers such as Blizzard and EA complied with Belgium's law, and added features into the Belgian versions of its games to prevent players from buying in-game loot boxes with real money.
Xiao is a researcher of video game law, particularly as it pertains to loot boxes. In his research, he found that it's been easy for developers to circumvent Belgium's law. "The Belgian ban has not been effectively enforced," wrote Xiao. Among the errors in the country's law, Xiao found that the ban "gave consumers, parents, and policymakers a false sense of security."
He also theorized that full enforcement of a loot box ban would negatively impact the country's esports industry, promote "the forbidden fruit effect," and drive revenue for companies that aren't complying with the Gaming Commission's law.
Xiao concluded that Belgium should re-evaluate its position on loot boxes, as "complete elimination of the loot box mechanic from a country is not practically achievable." A ban in other countries would be similarly ineffective, he argued, and "other less restrictive approaches to loot box regulation should be considered."
The future of loot boxes is as unclear as what's inside them
Loot boxes have grown more controversial as they've become a more prominent form of monetization. Some developers have recently chosen to advertise their games as being loot box-free. In recent years, several governments have attempted to curtail loot boxes, if not outright ban them.
In 2019, Missouri senator Josh Hawley announced his plan to bring a bill to the US Senate that would ban loot boxes in the United States, particularly in games geared towards younger children. No decision or changes have been made to the bill in the three years since it was introduced.
Last month, Dutch politicians from various political parties came together behind a motion that may see the mechanic outlawed entirely. However, the motion was also open to "amending the law for this where necessary."
That same month, the UK government said it wouldn't move to outlaw loot boxes, and instead called on game developers to regulate the mechanic. "Games developers, publishers and platforms operating in the UK must take responsibility for ensuring player safety, and work collaboratively to find tangible industry-led solutions," wrote Nadine Dorries, secretary of state for the country's Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
"Our view is that it would be premature to take legislative action without first pursuing enhanced industry-led measures to deliver protections for children and young people and all players."