A court in the Austrian state of Carinthia has found against Sony in a court case surrounding the use of loot boxes, in one of five lawsuits filed against Sony and FIFA manufacturer EAby Austrian law firm Salburghas.
The lawsuit concerned a 17 year-old who reportedly spent €338.26 ($359.59) on FIFA points, with a court finding in the plaintiffs favour and classifying loot boxes as a form of gambling, in the first ruling of its kind in Austria and Germany. Sony has been ordered to refund the full amount.
A key issue within the case was the fact that Sony doesn’t have a gambling license, and as such the contract between it and the consumer are null and void. However, as this is a provisional ruling, Sony can still appeal the final decision.
"The verdict is a bang for the entire video game industry,” said litigation financier Padronus managing director Richard Eibl. “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.”
Is mobile gaming next?
Loot boxes remain a hot button issue in the games space regardless of platform, and one that has received significant attention from regulators. For example, last year’s hit game Diablo Immortal was banned in Belgium and the Netherlands due to its use of the system.
EA also received a €10 million ($11 million) fine in the Netherlands due to the use of loot boxes in FIFA, however this decision was overruled on appeal, perhaps signifying the possibility of a positive outcome in this case.
Regarding the most recent decision, Eibl stated: "The court proved us right and explained plausibly why this was is the case with FIFA packs. In terms of staging, Sony is also strongly oriented towards conventional games of chance when buying the loot boxes. Audiovisual enticement elements such as fireworks are used to trigger dopamine release in predominantly male adolescents. It was only through talking to our customers that we realised how addictive the FIFA packs are and how pathological the purchasing behaviour of some players is.”
"The judgement points the way for dealing with Looxboxes and shows that video games are not a legal vacuum," said Austrian law firm Salburg Rechtsanwalts GmbH legal assistant Michael Linhard.
According to Padronus, a four-digit number of FIFA players have contacted the company with their claims so far. Although the average claim is for €800 ($850) one particular case has the claimant seeking around €85 thousand ($90.3 thousand).
In December, the EU called for greater player protection in gaming.