What happened

If you haven’t heard of Final Fantasy Brave Exvius (FFBE), it’s a free-to-start licensed Final Fantasy game for iOS and Android, developed by mobile game developer Gumi (or Alim... the naming situation is complicated, but I’ll stick to Gumi for this article). It’s a turn-based JRPG in vein of early Final Fantasy games, with characters that can be randomly summoned through premium currency, which can be either purchased directly or earned in-game through various limited sources.

If you haven’t heard of Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and live in Belgium, you have less than a month to give it a try. Due to Belgium’s Gaming Commission’s recent decisions on lootboxes in video games, Gumi has decided to stop service of FFBE in Belgium out of fear that it might be classified as illegal gambling. The company’s full statement (sourced from in-game news) is as follows:

An important notice for all players residing in Belgium

We regret to inform you that due to the present uncertain legal status of “loot boxes” under Belgian law, “FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS” will be withdrawn from service in Belgium in 30 days, on December 3rd at the earliest.

What this means for our players

You will be able to continue playing until the next update scheduled on December 3rd. After the update, you will no longer be able to access or play the game, or spend any unused in-game currency or items. We recommend you use them all in their entirety and enjoy the game before December 3rd. We want to thank you for your understanding and most importantly for playing and having fun with “FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS.”

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This isn’t the first mobile game to shut down in Belgium due to this regulation; another Gumi-developed title, Alchemist’s Code, announced its shutdown in Belgium just days prior. It’s likely that other games will follow suit.

What comes next

Regulations that consider lootboxes to be gambling seem to be spreading, and it’s conceivable that the entire European Union might adopt this classification. While Belgium is small compared to the global market for a game such as FFBE, and likely isn’t worth retooling the game so it can still make money there without gambling mechanics, the EU makes up fully one-third of FFBE’s global version’s revenue, and this would be too big of a market to ignore. If this becomes the case, we might see games like FFBE being retooled rather than simply stop service in regions where their mechanics are banned.

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In the meantime, players of these games in countries like Belgium will have to do without or find questionably-legal workarounds such as playing through a VPN

What this means

Most gamers in online communities celebrated when Belgium banned lootboxes, hoping that this would spell the end of them in full-price games. However, the recent closures of free-to-start games like this are a reminder that the regulations don’t take into account any upfront price the game might have. While it seems like a relevant difference to gamers, that it’s more alright to fund the game through gambling systems if you don’t also charge a big price to buy the game, the law doesn’t see it this way.

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Of course, few people actually like the gambling in free-to-start games, but many people do like the games they can play for free while other people fund them. This might still be possible without gambling, but it will involve significant retooling of these games in ways that aren’t as efficient at making money, which means the free-to-play experience might get worse (or nonexistent) to compensate for the games no longer being able to extract massive amounts of money from rich or gambling-addicted gamers.

For the sake of people with gambling problems though, this is almost certainly a good thing.