While not quite banned (yet), an Austrian court has ruled that FIFA’s loot boxes are a form of gambling and must be labelled as such.
The ongoing debate over whether loot boxes in video games count as gambling could take a major step forward, following a recent court ruling in Austria.
The issue started after a group of Austrian FIFA players, including one minor, sued Sony after losing hundreds of euros on the FIFA Ultimate Team card packs, the series’ take on loot boxes.
We’re not entirely sure why they targeted platform holder Sony and not FIFA publisher EA, but regardless the court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and stated that loot boxes are, in fact, illegal gambling.
The court decided that since the contents of a loot box are determined by chance, and can potentially be worth more or less than what a player paid for it, that means loot boxes violate Austria’s gambling laws.
There’s no mention of Austria now planning to implement a country wide ban of loot boxes (although Belgium and the Netherlands already do), but the FIFA Ultimate Team packs must now be classified as ‘gambling games that require a licence.’
Presumably, this could go on to apply to any other game that also features loot boxes or similar mechanics, where players can pay real money for a random selection of items.
It remains to be seen whether this will cause EA to pull its games from sale in Austria, rather than comply with its laws. After all, it did just that when Belgium and Netherlands banned loot boxes, clearly deciding it could afford the loss of sales – given fans were likely to import from neighbouring countries.
Richard Eibl, managing director of litigation financier Padronus describes the verdict as a ‘bang for the entire video game industry,’ telling Games Wirtschaft, ‘Neither in Austria nor in Germany has there been case law on the question of the legality of loot boxes and the reclaimability of payments made.
‘Of course, the final result remains to be seen, as the proceedings will probably go up the courts, but Sony and several other gaming groups should dress warmly from now on.’
While Sony has been told to refund the plaintiffs €338.26 (which is just under £300), it can always appeal the verdict. However, neither it nor EA has issued a public response.
FIFA’s implementation of loot boxes are probably the most well known example and have been routinely criticised for preying on players, especially children, since the series has traditionally always been rated as being suitable for ages three and upwards.
EA has always defended its loot boxes, calling them ‘surprise mechanics’ and even saying that they simulate how football works in real life.
Leaked documents from 2021, however, claim that EA has been aggressively trying to push more and more people into spending money on FIFA loot boxes, something the company denied.
Here in the UK, some politicians and even the House of Lords consider loot boxes a form of gambling and have called for regulation, something the government is at the very least considering.
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