August 16, 2022
Enlarge / What’s in the box?

Blizzard’s upcoming open beta launch of Diablo Immortal later this week will be skipping the Netherlands and Belgium, thanks to regulations in those countries that consider games with randomized loot boxes to be illegal gambling.

Diablo Immortal will not be available in Belgium or the Netherlands, and will not appear on Battle.net or the Belgian and Netherlands App or Google Play Stores,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Eurogamer over the weekend. “This is related to the current operating environment for games in those countries. Accordingly, pre-registrations for the game are not accessible in those markets.”

Activision Blizzard reportedly let Belgian and Dutch players preregister for the game’s public beta test and listed the game briefly on mobile app stores in both countries. But the company quietly changed course in recent months, as Dutch gaming news site Tweakers noticed over the weekend.

On the Diablo Immortal subreddit, one user shared a purported message from Blizzard Support stating that players in the Netherlands and Belgium “will not be able to install Diablo: Immortal due to the countries’ gambling restrictions.” Belgian and Dutch players who download the game in another country or through a VPN could see their accounts banned, the message continues, though Blizzard has not imposed such bans in those countries in the past.

Legal eagles

In April 2018, government agencies in both the Netherlands and Belgium ruled in quick succession that randomized loot boxes were illegal “games of chance” that provided players with items that have “variable market values.” Activision Blizzard was among the many companies that have made changes to games in those countries in the intervening years, disabling loot box sales in Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch to comply with the laws.

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Despite the local rulings, EA refused to remove randomized player packs from its lucrative FIFA Ultimate Team mode in either country. After a Dutch court imposed a 10 million euro fine on EA in 2020, the company appealed and eventually had the fine overturned, convincing the Dutch high court that Ultimate Team added “an element of chance” in a wider “game of skill.”

That decision doesn’t seem to have affected Blizzard’s thinking on Diablo Immortal, though, and the company doesn’t seem to be considering a version of the free-to-play game without randomized item purchases either. The Diablo Immortal development team has discussed how in-game purchases will “never circumvent core gameplay” or let players purchase gear or experience points directly.

While a number of US legislators at the federal and state levels have tried to advance bills limiting the impact of randomized loot boxes in games, all of those efforts have stalled before becoming law.