Nintendo mobile games Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes will be shut down in Belgium at the end of August.
Both are being pulled over the "current unclear situation in Belgium regarding certain in-game revenue models". In other words, the country's recent stance on loot boxes.
Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem Heroes both have a premium currency you can buy with real-world money, and various in-game items you can purchase outright. But it's clear these are not the problem.
Each game has a gacha-style system where you can pump in premium currency for a random selection of premium items. In Fire Emblem Heroes, this is the ability to summon snazzy new heroes for your squad. In Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, meanwhile, you crack open boxes of fortune cookies to craft the most eye-catching in-game items.
Both are blind-box systems, and in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp at least, there's a real push to pay for these - and to keep paying until you're lucky enough to get the rare item you're after.
I previously wrote about how, after months as a committed player, I gave up Pocket Camp after this system was introduced six months after launch. I was most frustrated by its low odds of top-tier items, the decision to allow players to get dozens of duplicates, and the high costs involved for what is essentially gambling on getting a particular item of virtual furniture.
Nintendo of Belgium announced the decision today via Twitter:
Vanwege de huidige onduidelijke situatie in België omtrent bepaalde verdienmodellen van games, zal de service voor Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp en Fire Emblem Heroes op 27 augustus 2019 in België worden stopgezet. https://t.co/8xvDHr0zkO— Nintendo België (@NintendoBE_NL) May 21, 2019
And followed up with a longer statement via its website:
"Due to the current unclear situation in Belgium regarding certain in-game revenue models, we have decided to end the service for Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes in Belgium. It will therefore no longer be possible to play and download the games from Tuesday 27th August 2019.
"Players who still have Orbs and / or Leaf Tickets in their account can continue to use them until the service ends. In addition, future Nintendo games with similar earnings models will no longer be released in Belgium.
"We would like to thank all players in Belgium for playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes."
It's unclear why Nintendo is acting now - or only in Belgium. The country declared loot boxes were gambling back in April 2018, but after the Netherlands did the same. There's no word on Nintendo shutting down either of these games for its Dutch audience - yet.
Over the past year, Valve has blocked Dutch and Belgian players from opening CS:GO loot boxes, while Blizzard has done similar for Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. A little later, ArenaNet followed suit for Guild Wars 2, while 2K adjusted NBA 2K microtransactions.
Worst hit, perhaps, was EA. In September 2018, Belgium reportedly launched a criminal investigation into the publisher over FIFA's lucrative loot boxes. In January this year, finally buckled and stopped selling FIFA Points. EA had argued its system was not gambling because players knew the number of items you were getting, the rough odds of getting particular players, and because there was no (official) method of cashing out. The same could all be said for Nintendo's mobile games - and so it's unsurprising the Mario maker is now feeling the pressure.
We've contacted Nintendo to see if any other countries may be affected.