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Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law

The Netherlands Gaming Authority picked ten games and found four of them in violation of the Dutch Gaming Act.
Image: Electronic Arts

You can gamble in the Netherlands, but it’s an activity that strictly regulated by an independent government agency called De Kansspelautoriteit. In English, its The Gaming Authority, and since 2012 it's regulated games of chance in the Netherlands. The Authority just published a study it did of 10 video games that reward players with loot boxes, packages players can sometimes buy with real money that contain random in-game rewards, and found that 4 of the 10 games it studied violated the Dutch Gaming Act.


It determined that loot boxes are, in general, addictive and that four of the games allowed players to trade items they’d won outside of the game, which means they’ve got a market value.

“Offering this type of game of chance to Dutch players without a license is prohibited,” an English translation of the Gaming Authority’s press release said. “Moreover, the analyses that are currently available indicate that all of the loot boxes that were studied could be addictive.”

The Netherlands began investigating loot boxes in November of last year, around the time that Star Wars: Battlefront II made headlines because of its loot boxes. It’s giving all game companies until June 20, 2018 to modify their games before it begins to enforce the laws.

According to the study, the authorities picked games “based on their popularity on a leading Internet platform that streams videos of games and players.” Motherboard has reached out to the Gaming Authority for clarification on both the games it picked (the study doesn't name them) and the method by which it picked them, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Twitch is the most popular way gamers watch others play and it’s a good bet that Twitch is how the Gaming Authority focused its attention.

Six of the ten games the Gaming Authority studied aren’t in violation of Dutch law. “With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game,” the press release said. “This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act.”

The four others though offer the opportunity for players to trade items outside of the game and therefore meet the the Netherlands definition of gambling. To come into compliance, those games need to make their loot boxes less interesting to open. The Gaming Authority wants the companies to ”remove the addiction-sensitive elements (‘almost winning’ effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike)…and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless.”

Along with the English press release, the Gaming Authority also released a 17-page copy of its study titled A Study Into Loot Boxes: A treasure or a burden ? After it picked its games, the Gaming Authority partnered with addiction care specialists, played the games and opened loot boxes, and studied the games “using the evaluation instrument that was previously used to analyse the Dutch gambling market.”

That means the Gaming Authority took tools and systems it uses to study gambling machines and games of chance and applied it to video game loot boxes, which may have colored the results. “This tool is intended for games of chance that involve…cash money,” the study said. “Some care is therefore required in interpreting the results from this tool.”

Based on its study, the Gaming Authority conceded there is no widespread problem of players getting addicted to opening loot boxes, but it noted that “socially vulnerable groups such as young people could eventually be encouraged to play other games of chance…At this time, the Netherlands Gaming Authority has not yet received any signals that demonstrate that problem players and/or addicted players are opening loot boxes on a large scale, but this does not mean that there is no possibility of (major) problems existing.”