Square Enix has stopped offering three mobile games from its popular Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts franchises in Belgium following the country’s decision to ban loot boxes in video games.
Loot boxes, virtual boxes containing mystery in-game items that players can purchase with real money, have proved controversial in the gaming community.
Mobius Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts Union X and Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia will no longer be available to users in Belgium.
In a statement published in the games, Square Enix said that the removal was due to the “present uncertain legal status of loot boxes under Belgian law”.
These are thought to be the first games by a major publisher to be pulled due to the ban.
Until now, publishers have been altering their titles to comply with the new rules and avoid pulling their games from the Belgian market entirely.
Despite relying heavily on loot box purchases to generate revenue, Overwatch publisher Blizzard was forced to stop selling loot boxes in the region in August. Similarly, CS:GO publisher Valve has been blocking players in Belgium and the Netherlands from opening loot boxes in its game since July.
EA, the publisher behind the popular football video game franchise FIFA, has refused to modify its game, insisting that its Ultimate Team mode, where players can purchase packs of random players, “is not gambling”. Its decision has led Belgium to open a criminal investigation into the publisher.
Belgium’s ban on loot boxes
Belgian authorities issued a ban on loot boxes in April this year. According to the Belgian Gaming Commission, loot boxes are a form of gambling that appeal, in particular, to children.
A Belgian Gaming Commission spokesperson previously told Verdict:
“The Belgian Gaming Commission has come to the conclusion that real-money loot boxes are gambling. This means that in Belgium, these types of games are prohibited unless licensed.
“If they do not adapt their games, they all potentially face criminal prosecution.”
Publishers that refuse to comply with the changes face up to five years imprisonment and fines of up to €800,000, which could be doubled if it is found that minors were involved.
The ban won’t have been too concerning for publishers, Tom Wijman, market consultant at video game research company Newzoo, previously told Verdict. Yet, should other regulators follow in Belgium’s footsteps, major publishers could see revenue severely hit.
“I think the significant part about these bans isn’t so much the Netherlands and Belgium banning loot boxes, but rather the message this sends to regulatory institutions for gambling worldwide,” Wijman said.
The pressure on video game developers and publishers is mounting. At the 2018 Gambling Regulators European Forum in September, regulators from 16 countries, including the UK and the US, agreed to “address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling”.
A recent audit by the UK Gambling Commission found that the number of problem gamblers agreed between 11 and 16 had risen to 55,000, with a further 70,000 also at risk. Some 450,000 children are believed to engage in regular betting activities, with more than 1 million children exposed to gambling by loot boxes in the UK.