The Dutch gaming authority, De Kansspelautoriteit, pushed Valve to disable item trading today for Dutch customers. The change specifically affects players of the popular multiplayer shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the MOBA Dota 2.
At first glance, accusing a multiplayer shooter of violating Dutch gambling law is a weird one. The problem comes from loot boxes, which reward players with a randomly generated selection of in-game items. Many games offer extra chances to buy loot boxes for real money, and the items received can sometimes be sold or traded in Steam's marketplace for real money. After wrapping up a study of ten popular games and their treatment of loot boxes, De Kansspelautoriteit decided that the conjunction of those two things—the opportunity to buy loot boxes and sell their contents for a market value—were enough to constitute gambling.
"In May, we received two letters from the Dutch Kansspelautoriteit, stating that Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 contain 'loot boxes' that violate the Dutch Betting and Gaming Act," Valve wrote in a message to Dutch customers who own the two games in question. "The Kansspelautoriteit accusation is different from how other countries think about loot boxes, so we hired Dutch legal counsel, looked at the recent Study into Loot Boxes published by the Kansspelautoriteit, and learned more about Dutch Law."
While Valve is working on the problem, the Kansspelautoriteit is threatening to prosecute Valve if it doesn't fix the problem by June 20—that is, today. In order to meet the deadline, Valve chose the fastest solution, shutting down item trading for Dutch customers as of yesterday, June 19.
Reaction in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive subreddit has been largely sympathetic of the Kansspelautoriteit and critical of Valve. "Just annoying that they didn't give any notification up front or a 10-day chance to sell the items," one Dutch reddit user wrote. "I'm Dutch, and I agree that it's gambling. But a notification up front would have been nice." According to other customers, if users outside of the Netherlands try to trade items with a Dutch user, they receive an error message. Meanwhile, on the Steam forums for Counter-Strike, a Dutch customer tried to set an item up for sale at €0.85 and was notified that item trading was disabled in his country.
Note that this decision has stranded some very real money in a legal limbo. Rare items, like colorful designs for guns and knives, can be cashed out for hundreds or thousands of dollars. The most expensive item sold on the virtual marketplace site OPSkins.com, a virtual knife, sold for $5,000.
"I didn't expect them to do this without any notification up front," agreed another Dutch Reddit user. "Now stuck with a €100+ inventory, but some of my friends have €1000+." To be clear, that means that their inventory on Steam could have been sold on the Steam marketplace for over a hundred Euros. If we follow the gambling analogy, this is like having a bagful of poker chips and being unable to cash out.
Valve promises to keep working with the Kansspelautoriteit to find a "less inconvenient" solution.
Valve did not immediately respond to a request for comment.