Gambling laws in Belgium will soon stop Fifa players in the country from buying the in-game currency Fifa Points.
Game maker Electronic Arts (EA) has told players they’ll only be able to earn Fifa Points from completing in-game challenges in future.
The points allow people to buy in-game packs which randomly generate items (like special characters) to play with.
The Belgian Gambling Commission had threatened legal action over this “loot box” mechanic.
Loot boxes are virtual crates in games that contain bonuses like weapons, costumes and other perks.
In a report last year the Belgian Gambling Commission claimed that loot boxes are essentially the same as gambling because they are games of chance.
Such games are banned in the country (with only a few exceptions) so loot boxes like the ones seen in Fifa were not deemed to be legal there.
In a statement online EA said: “After further discussions with the Belgian authorities, we have decided to stop offering Fifa Points for sale in Belgium.
“We’re working to make these changes effective in our Fifa console and PC games by 31 January 2019.
“While we are taking this action, we do not agree with Belgian authorities’ interpretation of the law, and we will continue to seek more clarity on the matter as we go forward.”
YouTuber Ross Thompson, who’s known as TommyT999 online, showcases some of the best Fifa goals scored around the world on his channel.
He says that Fifa Points are now an essential part of the way the game is played.
“They’ve become a staple over the past four or five years,” he told Radio 1 Newsbeat.
“With the growth of the Ultimate Team feature, it’s taken away from Fifa being a one-versus-one, on-the-couch sort of a game, to very much being about the online experience, playing against people all over the world.
“Fifa Points are all about unlocking new players for your team, you can grind game after game to earn more and open packs that way, or there’s the opportunity to buy them.”
“I suppose it’s not cheating your way to win, but it certainly is paying your way to get the better players to give you a better opportunity of winning when you go online.”
Loot boxes are not a feature unique to Fifa of course.
Many major franchises like Call of Duty, Fortnite and Overwatch allow players to purchase in-game items via mystery boxes.
Some releases have faced a backlash from gamers who’ve felt that some titles have relied too heavily on the mechanic.
Fortnite recently changed how its loot boxes work in order to give players a better idea of what a box might include when they buy one.
In the UK the Gambling Commission explained its view on the subject in this report in 2017.
The paper suggests that loot boxes do not constitute gambling unless the items received are available to be used outside of the game as well.
Secondary websites that allow players to gamble items against each other (skin gambling sites), have been the main focus of attention for UK authorities recently.
As things stand it’s not likely that gamers will be stopped from buying Fifa Points in the UK in the near future, as they’re not breaking the law here.
However the Gambling Commission has recently raised concerns about the blurring lines between gaming and gambling – especially in relation to young people.
Currently Japan, the USA and China are investigating the use of loot boxes in gaming.