Micro-transactions system used in Fifa Ultimate Team, Star Wars Battlefront and other popular games could be banned
Features like hugely popular Fifa Ultimate Team could be removed or fundamentally changed
One of the biggest features of many recent games is harming children and should be banned, according to Belgian authorities.
Micro-transactions, which are used to buy "loot boxes" that give extra benefits to players, have become a constant part of many recent games – including the Fifa series, whose Ultimate Team is both a massive feature and a cash generator.
But the Belgian gambling commission has said the feature is a kind of betting and that it is damaging the children who play the games. "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child," said Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens in an interview given to VTM Nieuws after the decision was announced.
Features like loot boxes or card packs allow players to pay extra to receive a box that might include rare or very helpful add-ons, characters or other unlockable features in the game – but it also might not. Whether it's good or bad depends on chance, and so has been described as a kind of gambling.
The feature allows developers to continue making money long after games are sold, since players are encouraged to spend yet more cash to improve their performance within the game. But that money is being generated by luring players into spending money before they might be old enough, authorities have warned.
That's why the Mr Geens says he will work with European Union authorities to institute a complete ban on such features. He said such a change would "take time" and suggested that it might not able to happen, but committed to trying to ban it.
The Belgian warning came alongside another warning from Hawaii politician Chris Lee, who described similar features in the recent Star Wars Battlefront 2 game as a "Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money". He said that developers EA were exhibiting "predatory behaviour" as they attempt to make money from children.
It is unlikely that he will be able to get national legislation banning the feature any time soon, he said. But that will come much quicker if it is banned by states – something he is pushing for Hawaii to do.
Star Wars Battlefront has brought about a whole torrent of anger, after developers announced that players would have to spend huge amounts of money to unlock important characters like Darth Vader. That anger led to the feature being removed from the new game at launch – though developers suggested that it could come back.