Popular games such as the football game FIFA contain a gambling element that violates the gambling law. In Belgium, game publisher EA Sports has immediately stopped selling those so-called FIFA points, because it violates the law. In the Netherlands, the game developer is also in violation, but children can still buy football players with those points in the game, preferably rare, expensive players. Why can children still gamble in the Netherlands? “1400 euros.” Gert van Middelaar sighs. “We just lost that money. My son has bought online FIFA packs with players from there.”
Internet forums are full of stories about children spending thousands of dollars on games, without them or their parents realizing it. Kids want to have a good team to beat their friends. So they want to buy additional players in the game. It often goes wrong if parents let their child buy something with the credit card once in a while and then children buy something more often, accidentally or not.
The Gaming Authority, which monitors the supply of games of chance in the Netherlands as an independent regulator, concluded in April last year that virtual items can be purchased with real money in four of the ten games examined. If a child within FIFA buys a pack containing FC Barcelona player Lionel Messi, this star player can earn a lot of virtual coins within the game. These coins can then be traded outside the game for real money on illegal sites. Trading and buying these coins outside of the game is prohibited under the rules on FIFA developer EA Sports’ site. It is clear that the game developer earns a lot of money with it. According to Blake Jorgensen, financial director of EA, more than 800 million euros was earned from the sale of virtual football pictures in 2016. In Belgium, FIFA coins will no longer be available through the game as of January 31. After the Brussels public prosecutor started an investigation in 2018, EA Sports decided to stop selling the virtual treasure chests this year. “Although we are taking this step, we do not agree with the interpretation of the law by the Belgian authorities and we continue to look for more clarity on this,” FIFA states. In the Netherlands, FIFA is not yet abolishing the loot boxes.
Fred Steutel is the director of Hervitas, a healthcare institution that specializes in gaming and gambling addictions. He sees the consequences of gambling in games for minors almost every day. “In the past, gaming was a game of skill and you could acquire a certain status in this way. This has changed because of the loot boxes because now you can buy good players instead of earning them. With loot boxes, you enable more children to reach a level that does not belong to them.” And the better the team, the better the free packs on offer.
In addition to being a legal battle, EA will probably not cooperate, reports Sytze Kingma, a researcher at the Vrije Universiteit and specialized in games of chance. “A game like FIFA will always deny and say ‘that’s extra for the gameplay, but it will never call loot boxes gambling.” According to the researcher, enforcement is a difficult job: “Many games of chance and game providers don’t care, as long as nobody makes life very difficult for them. In the gambling world, there are often people of the fast money, and they always look for the boundary between the permissible and the legally acceptable.”
Nobody knows exactly what these loot boxes do to children’s brains, says Tony van Rooij of the Trimbos Institute and project leader ‘Gaming, Gambling and Media Literacy’. “Of course, as a precautionary principle, you don’t want children to play a game at a young age that is very similar to a casino game such as online casino malaysia. However, more research needs to be done on what exactly this does to children. We are concerned about the impact on vulnerable and addictive people.” EA Sports, the maker of FIFA, has been asked several times for a response but has indicated that it does not want to respond. In response to the investigation of the Gaming Authority, EA Sports, the developer of FIFA, has shown the chance of certain items since the launch of FIFA 19 in September. The chance of a rare player with an average rating of 90 or higher (99 being the highest) is only 2.8 percent.