Dutch Court Issues Red Card to EA over Loot Boxes

by Dale Shelabarger Updated:

The Netherlands Gaming Authority will be permitted to fine Electronic Arts over the inclusion of loot boxes in its latest FIFA football game. The ruling was made by the Hague District Court this week, which found in favor of Dutch gambling regulator, Kansspelautoriteit (KSA).

The decision allows the KSA to impose a €10 million fine on the publisher due to its violation of Holland’s Betting and Gaming Act. The penalty was originally imposed in October of 2019 following a 2018 warning by the KSA to remove loot-box functionality. This was subsequently appealed by EA who also took issue with the KSA publicizing its planned sanctions.

Electronic Arts argued that the use of loot boxes should not be considered ‘gambling’ as per the Betting and Gaming Act. The publisher claimed that their use in the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode featured items that could not be exchanged for money. It also pointed out that FIFA was essentially a game of skill and suggested that there existed no scientific evidence linking ‘Ultimate Team’ loot boxes to gambling addiction.

Nevertheless, the three-judge panel was unmoved, suggesting that players could still profit from Ultimate Team packs and that certain cards were highly valuable.

In terms of ‘scientific’ evidence’, the court stated that there existed no requirement that all games of chance should be proved to cause problems. This was because the Betting and Gaming Act was based on the assumption that they do indeed carry a certain risk, similar to slots providers like Microgaming. The judges then proceeded to contradict themselves by citing various reports by experts and players about the potentially damaging effects of loot boxes.

To avoid the KSA’s rather extravagant penalties, Electronic Arts has three weeks in which to disable the feature. Alternatively, the publisher can appeal the decision. Such a plan was announced by EA’s Benelux Country Manager, Dirk Scholing. Scholing was most unsettled by the ruling, expressing his deep concerns about the wider impact on Holland’s persecuted group of online FIFA players.

“Players all over the world have enjoyed FIFA and the FIFA Ultimate Team mode for many years and as such, we are disappointed by this decision and what it may mean for our Dutch community”.

As well as underlining EA’s ceaseless efforts to ensure ‘positive play’ (whatever that means), Scholing also suggested that his company would welcome further dialogue with Dutch regulators.

“Electronic Arts is deeply committed to positive play. We seek to bring choice, fairness, value, and fun to all our players in all of our games. We remain open to discussions with the Netherlands Gambling Authority and other stakeholders to understand and explore solutions to address any concerns.”

However, the KSA was decidedly forthright in its comments following the ruling. Speaking of its role as omnipotent protector of Holland’s fragile populace, KSA spokesperson René Jansen proclaimed:

"The KSA believes it is crucial to shield vulnerable groups, such as minors, from exposure to gambling. For that reason, the KSA supports a strict separation between gaming and gambling. Gamers are often young and therefore particularly susceptible to developing an addiction. As such, gambling elements have no place in games.”

He went on:

"The game's providers are the parties that decided to include a gambling game within the game, thereby breaking the law. The KSA has pointed this out to Electronic Arts Inc...repeatedly. (They) are, therefore…responsible for changing the game (so) that it is no longer in contravention of the law. How exactly it accomplishes this is at their discretion."

This isn’t the first time that EA has found itself in hot water with regards to loot boxes. In 2017, the feature was included in the beta release of Star Wars Battlefront II. This led to the UK’s Digital Culture, Media, and Sport Committee launching an investigation.

Following an extensive study, in which numerous representatives in the Gaming Industry were interrogated, the DCMS published a raft of recommendations. As a result, the British Government is currently holding a public consultation, seeking information about the effects of the controversial feature. Among the measures being considered is a ban on games with loot boxes being sold to children.

Given the continuing controversy surrounding loot boxes, it’s quite curious that EA continues to fight so hard for their inclusion. This begs the question as to why a multi-billion dollar company would be so insistent on retaining a feature that’s generated such bad press. Perhaps it has something to do with money.

In the meantime, the KSA will continue its noble crusade to defend Holland from the existential threats posed by video game developers.

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