Battlefront II, Overwatch under scrutiny by Belgian gambling regulator
Belgian Gaming Commission general director Peter Naessens has told local media outlet VTM that the organization is investigating whether the loot crate systems in Battlefront II and Overwatch qualify as gambling.
While the state of the investigation is still murky (the news comes solely via VTM, which was read with the help of Google Translate), a decision to brand these sorts of monetization mechanics as gambling could have a significant impact on the game industry.
Battlefront II and Overwatch both allow players to pay virtual currency (either earned in-game or paid for with real money) for a loot box/crate containing a (semi-)random assortment of in-game items, and many other games do so as well. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has already stated that it does not believe these types of monetization systems count as gambling, since a player typically always gets something for their investment.
But if a government regulator classified a game like Battlefront II as gambling, that might push other gambling regulators and/or the ESRB to take a fresh look at the issue, potentially shifting the landscape of game development. As the game's publisher, Electronic Arts might also have to pay the price of retooling the game and/or pay a fine to the Belgian authorities.
Blizzard has already faced a similar situation with Overwatch in China, where a new law went into effect in May requiring games with loot box systems to disclose A) what potential rewards a player can receive from a given box and B) what the odds are of them getting each of those rewards.
In response, Blizzard publicly disclosed that data for the Chinese version of Overwatch. Moreover, it reworked the game to adhere to another Chinese law banning the direct sale of loot boxes in games by instead "gifting" loot boxes to Chinese Overwatch players who spent real money to purchase specific amounts of in-game currency.
Update: Not long after this story was published, an EA representative gave the following statement on the matter to GameSpot:
"Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling. A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game."