The debate about loot boxes rages on. It's turned into an explosive battle over who is right and who isn't right when it comes to labeling loot boxes as conduits for gambling. This was all kick-started into the public sphere of discussion thanks to EA and DICE's Star Wars: Battlefront II, and now politicians and gambling authorities around the world are giving their two cents on the matter. As far as France is concerned, the gambling authority in the region has stated that loot boxes in premium-priced games are not gambling.
The news comes courtesy of a report over on Kit Guru, which outlines the decision from ARJEL after a seven-month investigation. The French gaming regulator determined that loot boxes are not legally considered gambling, and therefore are not gambling. However, ARJEL will continue to monitor the matter and is also calling for more unilateral support from the European Union in order to achieve a sound consensus on whether or not to consider loot boxes gambling.
According to ARJEL, the fact that you can't readily cash out your rewards from loot boxes for real-world currency means that in the minds of regulators it's not quite gambling. For them, the only way it would be gambling is if players could actually retrieve the money that they invested into the product.
However, ARJEL also believes that loot boxes do contain questionable psychological hooks that work very similar to slot machines and roulette wheels in terms of luring gamers into a feeling of needing to spend more money in order to acquire the item they seek.
ARJEL isn't entirely dismissive of the idea that loot boxes could be considered gambling, and do want to spend more time and research to investigate the effects of loot boxes on gamers. It also recognizes how loot boxes are being targeted at young gamers while utilizing the same psychological methodology as some gambling mechanisms. Now ARJEL wants European gaming regulators to come to a consensus before making their own decision in hopes of having a unified stance on the matter.
Gaming regulators in the Netherlands and Belgium have both classified loot boxes as gambling, given that there are third-party sites where you can cash out earnings from games like Dota 2, FIFA and Overwatch. ARJEL, however, does not consider the gray market a fault of publishers who implement loot boxes into their games.
South Korea and China have been a lot more aggressive about regulating loot boxes, as they've become quite predatory in mobile games. In China specifically, all publishers must publicly disclose loot roll chances to players, so they know what their odds are of gaining the item they want. In the West, those sort of protections don't exist, which is why so many people were angered with the inclusion of loot boxes as a means of leveling up in the game Star Wars: Battlefront II, which not only used loot boxes to acquire new gear, but you could also use it to make character classes stronger, thus turning it into a pay-to-win scenario.
Regulators like the ESRB and PEGI have mostly resigned from calling loot boxes gambling, but some politicians still disagree with that assessment. It sounds like France will continue to investigate before making a final decision, but for now, the gaming regulator for the gambling sector doesn't believe that loot boxes can immediately be considered a form of gambling.