In Austria, FIFA packs were classified as “illegal gambling” classified. We asked the well-known lawyer Christian Solmecke whether such a judgment on the loot boxes would also be conceivable in Germany.
What’s going on in FIFA? Several Austrians sued Sony in 2020, alleging that the company was violating the Austrian gambling monopoly with the FIFA packs. The process was then started 2 years later, in October 2022.
Now there is the verdict: On February 26, 2023, the Hermagor court classified the FUT packs as “illegal gambling”. In the course of this, Sony was sentenced to reimburse the payments in the amount of €338.26. However, the verdict is not yet final – so Sony still has the opportunity to appeal (via games economy).
In the Netherlands, on the other hand, a court ruling against the loot box mechanism was revised again.
FIFA 22: EA Gets 10M Back Because Their Loot Boxes Are Not Illegal Gambling After All – Court Says
MeinMMO asked the lawyer Christian Solmecke whether the loot boxes in FIFA could also be classified as illegal here in Germany. Solmecke specializes in internet and media law. He runs one with his law firm YouTube channelwhere law and gaming always play a role.
“No plaintiff, no judge”
MeinMMO: The legal situation for gambling in Austria is different from that in Germany. What are the rules in the neighboring country?
Solmecke: Gambling law is a federal matter in Austria. In order for such a system to be able to operate legally in Austria, providers must have a valid license. Due to the prevailing gambling monopoly, such a license can currently only be granted by the state of Austria. So if loot boxes are classified as gambling, loot boxes from providers without a license would be illegal. In order for these to be classified as games of chance, it is sufficient under Austrian law if a purchase is made for something the outcome of which depends primarily on chance and has an equivalent economic value.
It is undisputed that the content of the “FIFA” packs depends on chance. The Austrian court now also recognized a “financial performance” in the “FIFA” packs. According to the court, the loot boxes have a financial equivalent, which is why they were classified as gambling. Since Sony as a defendant does not have a concession in Austria, the court is convinced that the purchase contracts are invalid, which is why players can reclaim their stakes. Incidentally, lawsuits have already been filed for two years, only the verdict has only been issued now.
MeinMMO: Why isn’t there such a judgment in Germany yet?
Solmecke: A good question is why we don’t have a loot box verdict yet. The saying “where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge” is most appropriate here. But I’m sure that we can also expect a decision in Germany in the future. After all, the discussion is no less conducted here.
In Germany, the answer to the question of whether the contents of the boxes are to be understood as prizes in the sense of the gambling definition is decisive for the classification as a game of chance. Assuming this, buying a loot box would be acquiring a chance to win. But that alone is not enough. The possible profit would also have to represent an asset.
And here there are a number of open questions that have not yet been conclusively answered. In this respect, it is quite possible that loot boxes, depending on their design, also fall under gambling law in Germany and could be classified as illegal. But the future has to be awaited here.
MeinMMO: How could developers or publishers protect against falling under the gambling law?
Solmecke: This question drives an entire industry. The example of loot boxes shows how many pitfalls lurk in the compatibility of random mechanisms in computer games with gambling law. In order to circumvent these safely, comprehensive legal advice is required in each individual case, because every manufacturer designs the application differently. After all, even the smallest missteps can have significant economic consequences.
What’s next for FIFA? The judgment in Austria leads to discussions about FIFA packs and loot boxes in video games in general. The decision of the Hermagor district court is described as a “sensational judgment” that could make waves in the entire industry.
So far there are no restrictions on loot boxes in FIFA in Germany.
There were already legal problems in the MMORPG Lost Ark on the subject of loot boxes: Could Lost Ark also be banned in Germany? We asked a lawyer